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Film Review: Plan 75







Japan has one of the world’s oldest populations, along with one of the world’s lowest birth rates. In one sense, this can be viewed as a tremendous societal accomplishment. Thanks to advances in medical science, along with widely adopted healthy lifestyle habits, people in Japan are leading longer and more productive lives than anywhere else in the world. Similarly, education and advances in family planning have allowed people much greater control over the kinds of lives they want to lead. An obvious downside though is that such a situation will eventually lead to there being decreasingly fewer young people to take care of an ever-expanding elderly population.  



Chie Hayakawa’s film, Plan 75, posits a near-future Japan with a novel solution to this problem: Plan 75 is legislation that permits the elderly to voluntarily terminate their life after they reach the age of 75. That is to say, not permission to terminate their life because of some existing condition or illness, but just a general allowance to do so for anyone 75 or older. The public framing around the legislation is that, by choosing to participate in the program, the elderly can gain some measure of control over how their lives will end, while also performing a public service to their country. Additionally, to further incentivize people to make this cost-saving choice, the government will give money to anyone who agrees to participate in the program.


When I was younger, I remember the ethics around euthanasia seeming quite a bit more contentious than it does nowadays. Some form of passive euthanasia is legal in every state, whether it’s allowance for a patient to proactively decline to be resuscitated should they experience a future cardiac or respiratory event, or allowing someone to decide to decline life support for a loved one or to remove them from life support. We broadly accept that there is no moral obligation to force people to remain alive for as long as science allows. In this sense, there has long been established at least this minimum right to die. In recent years, that right has expanded to allow some versions of voluntary euthanasia or assisted suicide in a number of places around the world - though generally, this is just in cases where someone has some deteriorating health condition that is expected to eventually erode their quality of life to an intolerable point. In all of these cases, the common thread is that, however precious one’s life might be, it’s sometimes acceptable to deliberately end it. What makes Plan 75 so interesting to me is how it explores the limits and implications of that idea. 



The film follows five people. Our main character is a 78-year-old widow named Michi Kakutani (Baishô Chieko). From all outward appearances, Michi is leading a very active and fulfilling life for her age. She lives alone in her own apartment and has no children, but she does have a circle of friends she sees regularly and a job cleaning hotel rooms that she enjoys. At her age. Michi could go on government assistance if she needed to, but she’s happy to work. She’s the exact person that Plan 75 is not intended for. She can support herself without assistance and she has no serious health issues that require expensive or time-consuming care. Or, at least that’s how things look for her until her circumstances start to change. 


Some of the friends in Michi’s social circle have started deciding to opt for Plan 75. The public relations around the Plan 75 legislation presents it as a public service that the elderly can offer to the youth of their country, and for some of her friends that’s motivation enough. It also helps that anyone opting into the program can take the compensation they receive for participating and use it for their family, or to give themselves a lavish send-off. For some, the personal calculus is, “If I’m going to die anyway, why not get something out of it?” 



For Michi, it’s only when she loses her job that she begins to consider Plan 75 as an option. A fellow elderly employee at her job collapses during their shift, and the hotel decides to eliminate all of their elderly workers rather than risk the potential bad press they might get if one of their elderly workers dies while on the job. Michi is left scrambling for work as there aren’t many job opportunities for a 78-year-old woman. She eventually finds something, but it’s directing nighttime highway traffic. It’s work, but it’s cold and lonely work.


Three of the other characters that we follow are involved with the private business that has popped up to handle the implementation of Plan 75. The unfortunately perverse incentive structure created by this legislation has created companies whose sole purpose is to convince elderly people to end their lives while carrying out those terminations in the most cost-effective way possible. We even overhear a news broadcast at one point discussing the $10 billion in revenue the Plan 75 legislation has generated for the economy and how discussions have begun to expand the program to those 65 and older. 


Hiromu (Isomura Hayata) is a young man who works as a salesman for one of the Plan 75 companies. We mostly see him manning an outdoor information table where it’s his job to recruit people to die. Yôko (Kawai Yûmi) is a young woman who works as a contact for people after they sign up for Plan 75, someone to be there for people throughout the process, but she’s also charged with making sure people don’t change their minds and back out of the program. Finally, there’s Maria (Sutefanî Arian), a single mom who had been working as a nurse until she learned how much more money she could make taking care of the bodies and personal effects of people after they’ve died at one of the private Plan 75 facilities. None of these three people are especially happy doing their jobs, but to this point, the money has been just good enough to keep them from walking away. 



The fifth character we follow is Hiromu’s elderly estranged uncle, Yukio. We’re introduced to him when he shows up at Hiromu’s table looking to volunteer for Plan 75. Hiromu hasn’t seen his uncle in twenty years and today is Yukio’s 75th birthday. Because of how closely related they are, Hiromu’s company won’t allow him to handle his uncle’s case, so he passes his uncle off to someone else at the company. But, having reconnected with his uncle in this way, Hiromu decides to keep his uncle company during his final days. 


In some ways, Yukio may quietly be the most important figure in this story. With everyone else, the film is mainly interested in exploring how corrosive the intersection of elder care and capitalism can be, and how dehumanizing our view of the elderly can become as they become less ‘productive’ to society. Yukio is something of a counterpoint to all that. He has legitimately reached the end of a long life that he’s ready to be over. The film doesn’t make it easy on the audience by giving him some terminal illness or other obstacle to an otherwise happy life; he’s simply old, tired, and ready to be done. 


How all of these threads play out is worth seeing for yourself. Plan 75 is a deeply thoughtful film about our relationship to aging and mortality, both in our own lives and the lives of the people we’re close to. It’s a timely story because these demographic issues are living concerns for every Western society, but it’s also a timeless story in that, on a personal level, these are ideas we all will have to navigate over and over again in all of our relationships. 





 

Damian Masterson

Staff Writer

Damian is an endothermic vertebrate with a large four-chambered heart residing in Kerhonkson, NY with his wife and two children. His dream Jeopardy categories would be: They Might Be Giants, Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon, 18th and 19th-Century Ethical Theory, Moral Psychology, Caffeine, Gummy Candies, and Episode-by-Episode podcasts about TV shows that have been off the air for at least 10 years.

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