Chieko Baisho (right) stars in director Chie Hayakawa’s eerie and dark Plan 75. Photo credit: Plan 75/TIFF.
TORONTO — In the Sagamihara mass murder of 2016, a troubled young man massacred 19 residents in a home for disabled people. He claimed it was a necessary act, saying the residents were unproductive, they created hardship for the rest of society, and that it is in the nature of the Japanese people to sacrifice their lives for the greater good of their nation.
Director Chie Hayakawa‘s superb first feature film opens with an eerily similar pre-credits scene, but the setting is a seniors’ home. Cut to post credits, and we are a few years into the future. The koureikashakai, or “super-aged society,” combined with low fertility rates and exclusive immigration policies, make Japan the oldest country in the world.
In this future, in response to the economic pressure, the government has introduced “Plan 75,” a program that encourages seniors to self-euthanize after their 75th birthday. The mass murderer’s role has been usurped by government bureaucracy.
The program is promoted with the cheery energy and chirpy youthfulness of an infomercial. Young recruitment agents set up in parks where penniless seniors wait for a bowl of soup. They offer a $1,000 bonus to allow participants a final trip or a nice meal. Driven by hopelessness, social antipathy, and shame, most wearily sign up.
The story centres around Michi (Chieko Baisho), a 78-year-old woman, still healthy and of clear mind but with a precarious financial situation. She has lost her job as a cleaner at a hotel, and her apartment building is soon to be demolished. Jobs for seniors are scarce to non-existent, and access to social welfare seems locked behind confounding computer kiosks. She is lost, her future a blank.
The other main characters are those Michi encounters as she works through the Plan 75 process. She signs up for the program through Hiromu (Hayato Isomura) and bonds with a caseworker (Yumi Kawai) whose job is to council recruits in carefully timed 15-minute telephone sessions while avoiding any possibility of dissuading them from carrying through to the end.
Maria (Stefanie Arianne) is a gentle Filipino health care worker lured into the euthanasia facilities for the higher wages she needs for her daughter’s life-saving surgery. There, she sifts through the pockets of the dead to remove personal items before disposal.
Plan 75 had been selected to represent Japan at the 2023 Academy Awards and won special mention at the Cannes Film Festival. It is a resonant and shocking meditation on a society’s ability to justify and carry out the elimination of a generation.
Intelligently directed by Chie Hayakawa, Plan 75 is sober, deliberately paced, and painfully relevant, not only in Japan but also for Canadians as we struggle with the morality and broadening access of our MAID policies.
Hayakawa’s literate script—with echoes of both The Ballad of Nakayama and Soylent Green—is well-served by the empathic performances of the leads, particularly Chieko Baisho in the central role of Michi. She cycles between desperation and serene resignation and memories of joy and terror with fluid intelligence.
The scenes in the ghostly euthanasia facility are horrific in their matter-of-factness, and the parks and thread-bare apartment blocks where the seniors bide the empty hours are oppressively bleak. However, Hayakawa does find moments of dark humour.
Watching the supporting characters reconnect to their humanity leavens the darkness. The film’s final frames offer a moment of fragile exaltation that will stay with viewers long after they exit the cinema. Unforgettable and highly recommended.