Plan 75: A Near Future Warning
Content Warning: Suicide, Assisted Dying, Violence
As the Japanese-language film Plan 75, from Chie Hayakawa, nears its final screenings, the following offers a late encouragement that folk catch a screening before the end of its limited run. The film is a feature-length follow-up to Hayakawa’s 2018 short as part of Ten Years Japan in which five visions were presented of dangerous paths Japan might take. Released through Curzon, Plan 75 sees a near future Japanese state implement a pro-euthanasia programme for senior citizens in an attempt to address the suggested impending crisis that according to the International Longevity Center Japan (2017) will see one-third of the domestic population aged sixty-five or older. Save for the Principality of Monaco, Japan already boasts the highest elderly population globally.
Centred, primarily, on Michi (portrayed by musician and actor Chieko Baishô), the film explores the social pressures she faces in a version of Japan which believes she should make way for younger generations. Rather than a narrative premised on dignity in dying (a topic explored in Tout s’est Bien Passé  and Stille Hjerte ), Plan 75’s Michi is a generally healthy, but tired, seventy-eight year old woman struggling to make ends meet – echoing issues prominent in Parasite (2019), and many of Ken Loach’s works such as Sorry We Missed You (2019) and I, Daniel Blake (2016). Where it differs, however, is in its exploration of a proposed solution – one that seems terrifyingly realistic. Indeed, Plan 75 deals with the type of overpopulation arguments we hear from what amounts to eugenicist views within the environmentalist movement, those that fail to recognise capitalism as the problem. Issues of unemployment, marginalisation of older workers, digital literacy, homelessness, and precarious housing are also explored (for example, one landlord refuses to take on an elderly tenant unless they can pay two-years of rent up front; whilst Michi is informed her age makes her ineligible for any current vacancies).
‘Our capitalist society values productivity and divides people into those with worth and those without. The anxieties about ageing, and the intolerance shown towards the elderly, inspired me to make the film’. Hayakawa (2022)
Stylistically, the film is impressive and produced in a manner that bypasses science fiction formats, instead presenting a vision in which a government programme like the titular Plan 75 is absolutely normal. As Ian Haydn Smith (2023) stated in his review, ‘there is something uncannily off-kilter, yet feasible about this world’. Indeed, many of the specifics emerged from real-world events. The opening sequence, for example, offers a soft piano soundtrack – Mozart’s Piano Sonata No 5 in G Minor – which betrays what we see on-screen – a young man drenched in blood and carrying a shotgun, walking the halls of a community centre. In the following moments, we hear a radio broadcast explaining that Plan 75 has, today, come into place. We learn that this violence was part of an increasingly common trend of hate crime against the elderly. This attack was inspired by the real world actions of Satoshi Uematsu, who, in 2016, murdered nineteen disabled people in an assisted living facility and injured tens more, stating that he ‘wanted to rid the world of useless people’; an attitude akin to that held by those deeming the elderly as a burden on society.
The broadcast continues by suggesting that Japan has a history of older generations protecting the young, and, reading the letter from the mass shooter, we’re told that ’[s]urely the elderly don’t want to be a blight on our lives?’. We’re informed that this policy has come into effect due to significant public demand. As the story unfolds, we witness almost nothing unexpected from the modern world, emphasising the film’s grounding. Elderly characters are presented as undertaking part-time work to make ends meet (Michi and her friends clean and restock hotel rooms, for example), whilst others struggle with the symptoms of ageing (bad knees, poor vision, etc.), issues we give little to no thought to as completely normal and to be expected. IN contrast, the government waiting rooms we see these characters presented in are almost entirely staffed by young adults, with Michi our entry point to the manner in which these young workers promote the programme to the targeted demographic.
We learn that applicants are offered an incentive – captioned on-screen as a $1,000-equivalent – which they may use for whatever purpose they wish. Examples proposed to Michi include a final trip, or an exuberant meal. We also learn, however, that the individual remains responsible for the funeral costs, unless, that is, they are willing to accept a group burial or group cremation in which case the state will provide this for free. Advertising for Plan 75 becomes commonplace as the film progresses, with televised adverts and banners. We encounter Himoru (played by Hayato Isomura), a sales representative for the programme, running a soup kitchen with Plan 75-branding, and pinning posters to notice boards advertising the service. As he does the latter, we witness one of only a few incidents of protest against Plan 75, with tomatoes thrown against the board. Earlier we see one of the only smiles of the film as a man urgently turns off the T.V. during the advert, prompting the minor reaction from Michi.
The promotional campaign clearly works though, with Michi’s friends excitedly detailing the range of packages available. In addition to the financial incentive, hotel and spa deals are offered by partner companies, whilst the customer can also have their make-up done professionally for a farewell photograph to gift to their loved ones upon their passing. This memorial is posited as a reminder of their personal sacrifice to their loved ones, and their devotion to the welfare of the Japanese state, yet, it mirrors the ‘I did it for my nation’ talk espoused by Uematsu during his arrest. It’s heavily emphasised, however, that not all of our elderly characters have family to whom they could gift such a portrait. Michi, for example, discusses her lack of family with her friend Ineko (Hisako Ôkata) who has very limited contact with her children or grandkids. It’s in the aftermath of this dialogue that we see the first moment of the significance of physical contact as a part of the human experience. Michi’s isolation is also emphasised through her daily ritual of checking her letterbox to find either mass disturbed takeaway menus or nothing. In a post-Covid world, this is once again a challenge many have been living through as physical and social contact has become loaded with health risks or is no longer habitual – yet another dehumanising factor, but one which, fortunately, mutual aid practices demonstrated a strong community-focused countenance to.
Alongside Michi and Himoru, the third lead is a migrant worker named Maria (Stefanie Arianne). Like with Michi’s group of close friends, we see Maria embedded in her community of faith, alongside a number of fellow Filipinos and other Christians. Maria desperately seeks work to help pay for an upcoming treatment her young daughter requires for a heart condition. A friend advises Maria that she could make significantly more than her care work plays (stated to be circa $1,500, so two-thirds of the Plan 75 grant). We follow Maria, therein, as she takes on a role in the hospital, carrying out post-death activities – specifically, removing the personal effects from patients’ bodies before they are sent on for processing; a role her colleague uses to pocket items of value – an action he encourages her to also take. We are then introduced to Himoru’s estranged uncle, an applicant to the programme, and a relative he has not seen for close to twenty years. It’s through this chance encounter that we learn of some of the ethics involved with the programme as Himoru is removed as his uncle’s case handler due to a three-steps-of-separation rule on practice.
We later learn about the call handler code of conduct – a dynamic we quickly see broken as Michi asks to meet with her Plan 75 agent for some company before her end-of-life appointment. We see Michi join Yôko (Yumi Kawai) at the local bowling alley, a space she frequented with her late husband. We follow Yôko briefly, and share in her emotional turmoil as, despite her role, she evidently struggles after meeting Michi to maintain a disconnect between serving in her support role and the impact these calls have. This is one of a handful of moments we, the audience, are expected to relate to, humanising those involved in running the programme. Similarly, though more concerning, when Himoru discovers the same waste removal company that deals with animal carcasses collects the remains of clients, we are guided to share in his shock, not that the programme exists, but that this could be how the bodies or ashes are dealt with following their assisted deaths.
The film is intense, but Hayakawa manages to offer a concerningly realistic portrayal of a near future society dealing with what, from an economic and capitalistic perspective, is an impending issue. In a number of interviews, Hayakawa has stated that the seventy-five in the logo displayed during the credits was blurred to demonstrate the arbitrary imposing of a given age to those who might be targeted by such a programme, something she believes could as easily be applied to the disabled, to queer people, the homeless, or any other marginalised or ‘undesired’ population by the state. Though it’s not a major throughline of the film, we witness elements of this broader rejection of ‘other’. This is touched on, albeit briefly, when in a single sequence in which we see a sales rep. promoting a number of adaptations to public benches in order to prevent people from rough sleeping – what’s known as ‘hostile architecture’. As such, we are left with a warning that Plan 75 is, perhaps, only the first step in dealing with those deemed economically undesirable.
It’s a challenging watch, but I would encourage readers to catch the final screenings before the end of the current run.