There are an estimated 19.4 million people over the age of 75 in Japan. This equals to about 15% of the country’s population. Moreover, almost 25% are people aged 65 and up — a figure that is projected to increase to about one-third by 2050. Between a steadily increasing life expectancy, access to premium medical care, and an equally declining birth rate, Japan is effectively the oldest society in the world.
Considering the sheer size of Japan’s economy — it’s the third-largest globally — the country’s aging problem poses serious issues, from not having enough younger workers to replace the older ones who will inevitably retire to, conversely, increasing the retirement age in order to maintain a certain worker-to-retiree ratio. More than just the economy, of course, Japan’s aging problem presents social ramifications as well: increased number of dependents per working person, an urgent demand for caregivers and assisted living programs, and experiences of isolation, to name a few.
All of this forms the foundation of Plan 75, director Chie Hayakawa’s feature debut, in which she imagines a government program — the eponymous Plan 75 — that gives people aged 75 and up the choice to voluntarily end their lives. The film follows three intertwining narratives: Michi (Chieko Baishô) is an elderly woman who has just lost her job and is facing eviction; Hiromu (Hyatt Isomura) is young Plan 75 salesperson who believes he’s doing the right thing for those, like Michi, who are quickly running out of options; and Maria (Stefanie Arianne) is a Filipino migrant trying to make ends meet, taking any jobs she can in order to support her ailing daughter.
The aesthetic of Plan 75 verges on the sterile, with its clean, almost washed out, visuals and its threadbare score underlining the grim circumstances with which we meet our characters. Significantly, the camera very rarely offers a close-up of anyone, favouring distance and, by extension, scope — a slick combination that tempts detachment, which is inherently fundamental to the program’s success, but, at once, refuses it. We are privy to every breath held in consternation, every laboured step taken, the fearful glances, the resignation of choice — and we can’t help but feel the need to reach out.
It helps that the entire cast turns in commanding performances, providing emotional anchors to the story. Isomura brings an earnestness to Hiromu, which is most effective in tracing his descent from bright-eyed Plan 75 employee to a man realizing, perhaps for the first time in his young life, that sometimes our actions do have consequences for others. Similarly, Arianne is a sight to behold. Though somewhat under-utilized, particularly towards the end of the film, she deftly navigates the tension within Maria, whose means-to-an-end mentality grows increasingly difficult to justify.
Of course, it’s Baishô who is the film’s MVP. She is an absolute force every time she’s on-screen, bringing a vitality to Michi that defies her age and, thus, the very notion that her life should end because of it. Baishô is the film’s lighthouse: as Plan 75’s emotional waves come crashing down — because the film inevitably does reach a harrowing climax — we can’t help but look to her for hope.
Plan 75 doesn’t trouble itself with diving too much into Japan’s state of things or providing more social context for the assisted dying program — which, in less capable hands, could have possibly led to a fumbling of tone — but somehow that feels precisely the point. Indeed, for a non-native Japanese viewer, the film raises more questions than answers, but it never feels frustrating. If anything, Plan 75’s choice to spotlight the individuals working and struggling within the problem, rather than the problem itself, works in its favour. There’s a blurring of the line between the realistic and the dystopian, gesturing towards an all-too-plausible future, perhaps even warning us of the dark path we tread when we put profit over people.
In this regard, if there’s any frustration to be felt, it’s certainly towards the evident failure of capitalist tradition. With quiet horror, Plan 75 shows us that those in power continuously treat those who are not as pawns, literally discarding us when we’ve served our purpose. At the same time, especially with the parting shot, Hayakawa’s film ultimately reminds us of our right to life — long, full, and bright.