Amidst the most rapidly-ageing population in the world and following a string of violent attacks against the elderly, the Japanese legislature passes a bill to legalise assisted suicide over the age of 75. Adapted from her short film segment of the same name, Hayakawa Chie’s debut feature is an emotionally nuanced human drama as well as an accomplished study of the banality of evil.
It is perhaps most acutely felt in Japan, but rapidly-ageing populations are a serious condition suffered by almost all of the globe’s developed nations, with serious long-term consequences for productivity, services and the sustainability of the economy. The history of the twentieth century, of course, is rife with warnings about the horrors of social engineering, population control and state-sanctioned killing, while science fiction cinema has in the past dealt with similar themes, most notably with Michael Anderson’s 1976 Logan’s Run.
In contrast to that film, the state-assisted killing in Plan 75 is voluntary. The formal science fiction genre tropes are far subtler here, too, with the film taking place in a world broadly indistinguishable from our own. Nevertheless, its horrors are just as profound as any Soylent Green or 1984, merely sublimated into a comforting fantasy where the state kills you at a luxury spa retreat. In the film’s muted visual language, all cramped close ups, interior shots and pastel colours, there’s something of Yorgos Lanthimos’ unsettling, off-kilter darkness, although Plan 75 never approaches the full absurdism of something like The Lobster.
Instead, the film focuses on the loosely intertwining stories of three protagonists: Michi (Baishô Chieko), a woman who has reached the threshold of the government’s Plan 75 scheme, Maria (Stefanie Arianne), a young Filipino woman in need of work, and Hiromu (Isomura Hayato), an employee of the outsourced private company that administers the euthanasia. Assisted suicide is profoundly ethically and morally complex, and while Plan 75 could be criticised for presenting the issue as a little too binary, this is less a pamphlet on the evils of euthanasia and more a study on the bureaucratisation of human life and on the myriad imperceptible ways that global capitalism encourages us to devalue ourselves.
Typically, proponents of assisted suicide cite terminal illness and quality of life as its overriding virtue, but Michi is neither unwell nor in pain. Her quality of life is diminished only because she struggles to find work and thus get by. In a capitalist system, we are told that our only value is as productive units, and so her desire for death is only because capitalism has no further use for her, not because her life has ceased to be worth living.
Another function of capitalism is alienation: Michi’s peers are alienated from their own mortality, blithely discussing the spa retreat they will attend, seemingly oblivious that it will end their lives, while the functions of the workers at the corporation are systematically ordered so as to diminish the monstrosity of the process in its totality. Maria, processing the bodies after they have been killed is disconnected from the nature of her work by never meeting them as living people, while a salesman Hiromoru’s comforting alienation is shattered only when his widowed uncle applies for the scheme.
Plan 75 has its weak points – a prologue that posits that the government legislation was inspired by a series of killings is unnecessary, exploitative even, and Hayakawa can’t resist that old cliché of having one of her characters stare ruefully at the camera in the third act. Nevertheless, this is strong work for a debut feature, and while not presenting assisted suicide itself with the greatest of nuance, Plan 75 is an accomplished portrait of capitalist alienation.