Written 26 May 2023
I went with my wife to see this last night at the excellent Plymouth Arts Cinema. Described as “Japan’s submission for this year’s Oscars…set in a chilling, near future in which the country has gone to extreme lengths to manage its ageing population and consequent economic distress” I was very much looking forward to it. I’m interested in end of life and demographic questions as I see them growing in importance over the coming years as well as providing a real insight into fundamental shifts in societal values currently underway.
Plan75 is a joint Japanese/French production. Though it is set in Japan, the dialogue is in Japanese and one would never know of the French involvement without sitting through the credits. The title refers to Plan75, a governmental initiative that provides a free, though non-compulsory, euthanasia for elderly Japanese citizens. Participants receive a small grant to spend as they wish and may change their mind at any time. We learn over the course of the film that the elderly are increasingly the targets of hate crime, encouraged to see their own deaths as being for the greater good of the young, and are channeled towards choosing the route by bureaucratic and other obstacles placed before them (for example landlords being unwilling to rent to them).
The film is rather slow paced, possibly in keeping with the age and life stage of most of the protagonists. It uses a lot of silence and the dialogue is minimal; much of the real lifting is done by news broadcasts playing in the background or in waiting rooms at social services and the offices of Plan75.
It is well acted and probably worth a watch but I’ve got to say that the overall impression I left with was one of frustration and disappointment. What an amazing opportunity for scriptwriters and directors to really get to grips with a whole host of crunchy themes. But unfortunately these opportunities were largely squandered. The worker for Plan75 having to deal with his estranged uncle presenting himself? We’re really left with nothing, no insights, nothing to discuss. The Pilipina Christian who has settled in Japan to work in elderly care and then starts working for Plan75 to earn more money? Again nothing really. A whole host of avenues unexplored, traded in for endless shots of people pouring tea, driving around, doing menial jobs directing traffic. We can’t really sympathise with the characters because they aren’t really allowed to become interesting.
Last year I went to see “Everything Went Fine”, a French film that dealt with the theme of an elderly man laid low by a huge stroke who even when largely recovered decides to go to Dignitas. Again, the feeling after watching that was that there was so much to go for but the script really ducked it. I’m still really waiting for a host of defining films for our age on this and related subjects. They’re not here yet but they will come, because the questions aren’t going to go away.