Absolutely quiet and still, ‘Plan 75’ is a chilling look into a dystopian world where Japan has found a startling way to handle its growing elderly population: a government program that offers assisted suicide to all citizens aged 75 and above. The program itself, the titular Plan 75, offers a cash handout for the volunteers to do with as they please and are assisted all the way through cremation services to make everything easy and tidy. By all means, this film falls under the realm of science fiction but first-time feature film director Chie Hayakawa is not interested in the macro view of this imagined bleak future. Instead, she focuses her camera on three characters: at its center is Michi (played by the arresting Chieko Baisho), a 78-year-old woman with no family, who is struggling to keep her independence in a society that sees no value in someone of her age; Himoru Okabe (played by Hayato Isomura), a sales agent for Plan 75, who truly believes in the cause until he meets an estranged aged family member who signs up for the program; and rounding out the cast is Maria (played by Stefanie Arianne), a Filipina caregiver, who is working in Japan to pay for her daughter’s expensive life-saving surgery, who accepts work from Plan 75.
As a film, ‘Plan 75’ is a character study. The film’s central premise pushes these three characters towards their own crisis of faith and in the process, we watch as this world normalizes death and the discarding of anything that is no longer deemed as valuable. Hayakawa, who co-wrote the screenplay with Jason Gray, covers this deterioration of society with almost no fanfare, as if this was ordinary and normal and it’s a chilling reminder of how bureaucracy and keeping the status quo seems more important on a larger scale for civilizations than the slow degradation of our humanity.
‘Plan 75’ poses its questions and arguments through Michi, Himoru, and Maria. The film is never loud with its objections or statements. We are invested in Michi’s desire to remain “useful,” At 78, she’s struggling to find work to support herself as all her friends are succumbing to old age. Without a family, she is completely on her own and society is pushing her towards volunteering for Plan 75 as there are no opportunities available for her to keep on living.
This is all done without drama, without highlighting the emotions involved. It’s a quiet film that basks in the silences of heavy thought and meditation. Even when Himoru wavers from his own convictions and takes a more personal approach to assisting his uncle with his plans, the film never judges him nor pities him. It is what it is. When Maria discovers, through her work in the Plan 75 facility, what happens to the things left behind by the seniors who have passed on, the film never underlines the sadness or the horror of the insights that are gleaned from this.
What the film manages to do is show us how society and the world is slowly just accepting these questionable changes happening around us. How, in the name of efficiency and the common good, we are allowing people to be left behind and pushed away in favour of those who can contribute more. There’s a hierarchy that is proposed in this film that mirrors what’s happening in real life and ‘Plan 75’ manages to highlight the impact this can have on the people intrinsically linked to it.
This is not an easy film to watch but it is an important one. It skillfully manages to ask important questions over a hypothetical situation and by putting front and center Michi, an elderly woman with no family, no one to vouch for her or fight for her and defend her, the film asks us to make a decision about her. While Hayakawa manages a burst of hope, a moment of urgency at the film’s third act, it still leaves the final verdict to us. Are we as powerless as Maria, victims of our own circumstances or will we have a crisis of conviction such as Himoru, or will we have the strength to stand up against the forces that dictate our worth?
This is not an easy film to watch but you have to watch it.
Plan 75 opens in cinemas nationwide on December 7. Buy your tickets here.