Saturday, April 22, 2023

Plan 75: A Culture of Death in Near-Future Japan

Kobe beef is expensive, so most Japanese mainly eat fish and vegetables instead. As a result, they live long lives—too long, according to their near-future government. To curtail the exploding costs of geriatric care, they pass a far-ranging euthanasia plan, encouraging everyone over seventy-five to just get on with it already. Sadly, lonely Michi Kakutani starts to believe she has no other options in Chie Hayakawa’s Plan 75, which is now playing in New York, at the IFC Center.

Kakutani has no family, so she must work as a hotel housekeeper to survive. Unfortunately, neither she nor her three friends are holding up well. In fact, at least one of them is already thinking about applying for Plan 75.

It is Hiromu Okabe’s job to close those deals. Ostensibly, he is customer service rep, but he is expected to sell euthanasia like a boiler-room penny-stockbroker. However, he starts rethinking his role in Plan 75 when his estranged uncle walks into the office. It appears euthanasia is a good business, because Maria, a Filipina migrant worker with daughter back home in need of surgery, finds a much better paying job at one of its process centers. However, the reality of her new work quickly takes a toll on her.

Frankly, whether intentional or not, the scenes Maria sorting and cataloging the effects of the newly deceased evokes some horrific historical memories. That said, Hayakawa achieves a remarkably restrained and mediative vibe, in all other respects. To a large extent, the macro tragedy has already happened. We are just watching the quiet ripples, as they apply to the characters.

We do not see a lot of actual death, as it occurs, in
Plan 75, but death is a constant, oppressive presence hanging over everyone and everything. It brings to mind Ramesh Ponnuru’s writings on a “culture of life” and a “culture of death.” The Japanese society depicted in Plan 75 is completely and inescapably a culture of death.

Yet, somehow, as a film,
Plan 75 is unusually humanistic and forgiving. Chieko Baisho’s quiet performance as Kakutani is delicately expressive and exceptionally moving. Likewise, Hayato Isomura is quietly amazing as Okabe.

Plan 75 is not a laugh a minute, but it is a beautifully crafted film. Hideho Urata’s soft, warm cinematography matches the sensitivity of the story. Yet, there are significant implications to the film that most critics missed, because they are shallow hacks. At some point, society has to draw a line on policies that advocate convenient death or it will be solely defined by death. It is surely no accident the life of Maria’s daughter is so precarious. In a Plan 75 world, wouldn’t be easy to let her go and start fresh? Riddle us that “Filmtwitter.”

Regardless, for healthy people,
Plan 75 is a haunting film with moments of profound insight. Very highly recommended, it is now playing at the IFC Center in New York and opens this Friday (5/5) at the Laemmle Glendale.