Japan’s official submission for this year’s Academy Awards in the International Feature Film category, Chie Hayakawa’s Plan 75 is an emotionally dense, harrowing look at Japan’s aging population problem with a factional twist that rings true. Unfussy, shot with minimalism and sparse dialogue, this affecting film shows us what it’s like to be unwanted, to be considered a burden to the very same country that you’ve dedicated your life for, living on the sidelines and waiting to be no longer part of such an unforgiving society that, once you grow old, is no longer interested in keeping you in it.
Considered to be one of the oldest populations in the world, Japan has long struggled with its aging population. Economically, and as the young workforce shrinks, the government has had to find ways to be able to support its elderly while streamlining its productivity. The country’s high life expectancy as well as competent medical care, coupled with its almost non-existent immigration policy, has led to increased pressures on its young population, struggling to make ends meet with long working hours, declining currency value and noticeable increases in the cost of living.
Chie Hayakawa takes this existing problem and adds a fictional twist: imagining the government launches a program that allows the country’s senior citizens (aged 75 and above) to end their lives. As strange as that sounds, the film makes it very believable and highly credible. Titled Plan 75, this government-supported program advertises self-sacrifice and potential economic benefits, while luring in senior citizens whose chances of securing jobs and earning income at that age is all the more difficult.
Plan 75 information centers spread rapidly in the country, with call centers, outdoor awareness events and an intense advertising campaign working to persuade as many senior citizens as possible to agree to euthanasia. The campaign organizers, backed by the government, know very well their offering is quite attractive: the elderly who will take part receive a $1,000 reward prior to joining, while being given the chance to end their lives in a lush, 5-star facility where they get to spend two days and one night prior to receiving meds that end their lives peacefully and without struggle.
In the middle of all this is Michi (a wonderful Chieko Baisho), a 78-year-old woman who is still able to work and support herself. The film beautifully follows her downfall and rise, as she goes from financial independence to bankruptcy, losing her job and finding out her home is facing demolition. Strong willed and in very good health, Michi shrugs off Plan 75 at first, believing it’s a cowardly, absurd idea. But as life becomes more and more impossible for her, with no place to stay, no income to earn and no family members to support her, she finally starts toying with the idea of joining Plan 75.
Chie Hayakawa, who also wrote the screenplay and won a Special Mention at this year’s Cannes Film Festival – Camera d’or, allows us to follow multiple characters on the brink of collapse. Her screenplay, despite the fact that not all characters sustain our interest equally, still manages to effortlessly move us, while showing us a society’s demise where compassion, and not only financial outlook, is on the decline.
This review is from the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival. Plan 75 is Japan’s submission for the International Feature Film Oscar at the 95th Academy Awards.