The Movie Waffler New Release Review - PLAN 75 | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - PLAN 75

Plan 75 review
To cull an aging population, Japan offers its elderly citizens the chance to voluntarily end their lives.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Chie Hayakawa

Starring: Chieko Baisho, Hayato Isomura, Stefanie Arianne, Yuumi Kawai, Takao Taka

Plan 75 poster

Like most first world countries, Japan is facing a looming aging crisis, with an elderly population that could soon be unable to rely on the support of a dwindling youth. There are various reasons for this, but few easy solutions. In writer/director Chie Hayakawa's feature debut Plan 75, co-written with Jason Gray, one unpalatable but not entirely far-fetched solution is brought into being. In the near future, Japan's government enacts the titular plan, which allows all citizens over the age of 75 to avail of assisted suicide, with their funeral expenses covered by the state and a gift of $1000 to spend as they wish.

It's hard to imagine such a proposal going down well in any western nation (just look at the riots provoked in France when the government proposed raising the pension age from 62 to 65), but Japan is different. The country has a centuries old tradition of selling sacrifice to its people as a form of patriotic duty, along with an obsession over honour. It's not hard to imagine how a Japanese regime might exploit this, and some academics in the country have actually suggested programmes not entirely different to the one presented here.

Plan 75 review

Using a quotidian approach not entirely dissimilar to that seen in Soderbergh's Contagion, Hayakawa imagines how this might play out by presenting us with various characters caught up in the procedure. The heart of the film is 78-year-old Mishi (Chieko Baisho), who initially visits a Plan 75 centre out of curiosity. The process isn't unlike signing up for insurance or a cellphone plan, complete with follow-up calls that purport to see if you're happy with the service but which are really intended to make sure you don't opt out. When Mishi loses her job as a cleaner due to her employer's worries over how it might appear to have elderly workers on site, she struggles to find both work and a new apartment. Too proud to accept welfare, Mishi decides to opt into Plan 75.

This sees Mishi's story intersect with those of several other characters. Himoru (Hayato Isomura) is a young employee of the programme who begins to question his job when his estranged uncle Yukio (Takao Taka) signs up as his latest "client." Fellow Plan 75 employee Yoko (Yuumi Kawai) is assigned to liaise with Mishi over the phone in the days before her scheduled departure from this world and breaks the rules by meeting her elderly "client" in person. Filipina immigrant Maria (Stefanie Arianne) takes the grim job of undressing the corpses of those who opted for Plan 75 in order to pay for her daughter's surgery.

Plan 75 review

While all of these character arcs might lead to histrionics and overplayed drama, Hayakawa adopts the sort of toned down, sensitive approach we've come to associate with Japanese drama. It all plays out in workaday fashion, and this downplayed presentation is what really sells the concept as something more tangible than science fiction. Watching the rehearsed interactions of Himoru, Yoko and other Plan 75 representatives (which feel imported from corporate America) towards their clients is as frustrating and disheartening as watching a smiling politician visit a food bank. There's a certain irony that the one character you might expect to rebel against this madness, Maria, whose Catholicism must surely make her role very difficult, is the most pragmatic, forced to take part in this horror to protect her family, though she does get a quiet moment of heroism late on.

I've always felt elderly actors are more naturally cinematic than their younger counterparts, so much more expressive, with decades of life etched in their faces like graffiti carved into a tree bark. Baisho is immensely watchable as Mishi, even though the character never does anything particularly dramatic beyond signing up for her own demise. We're left to observe as she goes about her daily chores, meets friends and watches life from park benches. Her smile is a gift to Hayakawa, immediately illustrating the filmmaker's point with its luminescence. But it's the small gestures, like how Mishi smoothes out a dishcloth for what will presumably be one last time, that are the most affecting. You'll find yourself wishing Mishi would change her mind, but you might also ask yourself if you've done anything to make life a little better for the senior citizens in your own periphery.

Plan 75 review

If you support the legalisation of assisted suicide, you might cast a sideways glance at Plan 75 and question its intentions - is this to euthanasia as those pictures of buckets of aborted foetuses are to abortion, a manipulative piece of propaganda? But nothing about Plan 75 suggests that it's a critique of euthanasia, but rather of genocide. Making assisted suicide available to all would constitute an act of compassion, whereas targeting a specific group is simply sinister. It would be like making abortion available, but only to members of a specific ethnicity. Regardless of its intentions, Plan 75's takeaway is clear. Life can be mundane, but it sure beats the alternative.

Plan 75
 is in UK/ROI cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema from May 12th.

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