A telling moment in this singularly pitched satire has a young government official blithely examining options for attachments to park benches that will inconvenience sleeping homeless people. This one doesn’t work because they can slip their bodies under it. This one is more satisfactorily repellent. And so on.
Chie Hayakawa, a debut director, is here drawing a line between a measure that (shamefully) already exists and her speculations about a dystopian escalation that may not be so rooted in the fantastic as we would like to believe. The film begins with a near re-creation of the murder of 19 residents in a Japanese care home eight years ago. In the film’s universe, society has obliged believers in such selective annihilation by instituting a scheme, the eponymous Plan 75, that invites citizens over that age to submit to euthanasia for modest financial reward. Officials explain that some spend the sum on a blowout, whereas others use it to pay for their funerals (ceremonies they may not otherwise have required for decades).
Hayakawa is assiduous in creating a believable bureaucratic machinery. The deceptively soothing public-information films bear an uncanny similarity to the commercials for pre-emptive funeral financing that run on satellite TV stations during mid-afternoon. Everyone in both talks smilingly about the event we all fear more than any other.
All of which suggests the background of a compelling science-fiction speculation. The gloomy visuals – Hideho Urata’s camera often wraps the foreground in deathly shrouds – make it clear early that we are not getting anything in the area of Logan’s Run, but it looks as if we may be in Children of Men territory. Hayakawa instead skews the film more towards sombre social realism.
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Michi (Baishô Chieko) is a 78-year-old woman who finds herself increasingly unable to live a decent, untroubled life. Landlords are reluctant to rent to her. Employers seek someone of nimbler foot. Eventually, she finds herself directing nocturnal traffic in the pelting rain. Elsewhere we meet another older man (Takao Taka) who more quickly faces up to the supposed opportunities of Plan 75.
The director is to be commended for taking such a bravely restrained approach to her core stories. But, though sincere and thoughtful throughout, the film ultimately gets squashed down by its own narrative integrity. The high concept becomes a near irrelevance as we struggle with a humanist story that lacks the emotional zest Hirokazu Koreeda habitually brings to related material. The messages are inarguable. The means of delivery leaves something to be desired.