Plan 75 (Chie Hayakawa, 2022)

In 2016, a 26-year-old man went on a violent rampage murdering 19 people at a care home for the disabled claiming that he had done it “for the sake of society”. Prior to his crime, the killer had written an open letter in which he stated that he dreamed of a world in which those with severe disabilities could be peacefully euthanised, while claiming that those with no ability to communicate had no right to life and were nothing more than a drain on society. An expansion of her earlier short featured in the anthology film Ten Years Japan, Chie Hayakawa’s Plan 75 opens with a sequence which appears to directly reference the 2016 mass killing but in place of the widespread outrage and reconsideration of a social stigma towards disability that followed in its wake, the government decides to implement a “voluntary” euthanasia program for those aged 75 and over in response to the “concerns” of the young in an ageing society. 

Intergenerational resentment does indeed seem to be a motivating factory, the killer in this incident feeling himself oppressed by the responsibility of caring for the elderly while simultaneously hemmed in by a stangnant economy and heirarchical society. He points out that Japanese people have always praised self-sacrifice on behalf of the nation and alludes to the archaic tradition of ubasute or throwing out the old in which elderly people were abandoned on mountainsides to die in time of famine. There is no denying that the Plan 75 initiative has its insidious qualities in placing undue pressure on elderly people to give up their lives in order not to “burden” the young, an elderly woman attending a cancer screening remarking that she feels a little awkward as if she’s “clinging on to life”, being somehow greedy in the simple desire to continue living. 

Meanwhile, their society has already abandoned them. 78-year-old Michiko (Chieko Baisho) had no children and lives alone supporting herself with a job as a hotel maid where all of her colleagues are also elderly women. When one of them has a fall at work, they are all laid off. The hotel claims that they’ve received complaints from guests about exploiting elderly people, but Michiko suspects it’s more like they don’t want one of them to drop dead in someone’s room. Not wanting to be a “burden”, Michiko is reluctant to apply for social security but even when she accepts she has few other options the desk at city hall is closed. Her building, like her now old, is set for demolition but no one is willing to rent to an unemployed 78-year-old woman nor is anyone willing to employ one. More and more Michiko is pushed towards Plan 75 if only to escape her loneliness. Being robbed of the opportunity to work also removes the opportunity for socialising especially as the other old ladies decide to move in with family and leave the area. 

This is in fact an integral part of the Plan 75 business plan with case workers specifically instructed to keep the applicants happy through regular phone calls while prohibited from meeting them in person to prevent the older person changing their minds having made new social connections that make their lives more bearable. In the quietly harrowing scenes at the processing centre, for want of a better term, it becomes obvious that the majority of those submitting to Plan 75 are women as staff members empty out their handbags, dumping their possessions into a large bin while setting aside anything of value such as watches or bracelets which are perhaps another valuable revenue stream for a callous government that sees the programme as a cost cutting exercise.  

Case worker Hiromu (Hayato Isomura) only becomes conflicted about Plan 75 after recognising an applicant as his estranged uncle and eventually discovering that despite sales claims of dignified funerals remains are often sent to landfill care of an industrial waste company. His uncle’s plight perhaps highlights the pitfalls of life in post-war Japan. Living hand to mouth working construction jobs all across the country he never had an opportunity to put down roots or save for his old age and is now living a lonely life of desperate poverty. Heartbreakingly he put his application in on his 75th birthday, an act Hiromu’s boss describes as almost heroic as if he couldn’t wait to sacrifice himself for the common good. Later a sign goes up that fixed addresses are no longer needed to apply, while the Plan 75 stand in a local park where they are in the process of putting bars on the benches so that homeless people can’t sleep there doubles as a soup kitchen. 

One has to ask, if there was money available for all of these resources to help people die why is it not available to help them live? A young woman assigned as Michiko’s handler appears to have second thoughts while bonding with her over the phone, tearfully reminding her she still has the right to withdraw (though it’s never mentioned if that means repaying the $1000 signing bonus) while Michiko’s life too has been brightened by this little bit of intergenerational friendship, itself cruelly commodified in the allotted 15-minute sessions included in the plan. Told with quiet restraint, Hayakawa’s vision of an eerily dystopian future in which human life is defined by productivity and all human relationships transactional, where loneliness is the natural condition and society itself has become little more than a death cult, is painfully resonant in our increasingly disconnected world. 


Plan 75 screens at Japan Society New York on Nov. 20 as part of The Female Gaze: Women Filmmakers from JAPAN CUTS and Beyond.

Festival trailer (English subtitles)

Images: © 2022 KimStim

Just the Two of Us (二人ノ世界, Keita Fujimoto, 2020)

“We’re just ordinary people” the heroine of Just the Two of Us (二人ノ世界, Futari no Sekai) eventually exclaims in exasperation with the often hostile world around her. Produced by Kaizo Hayashi as a project for students at the Kyoto University of the arts, Keita Fujimoto’s sometimes bleak social drama offers a less rosy view on disability in the contemporary society than has perhaps been seen in recent Japanese cinema as the twin protagonists each struggle against prejudice and preconceived notions of how disabled people should live while internalising a sense of shame and impossibility that leaves them with little hope for the future. 

Opening in darkness, the scene then shifts to bright sun light as a young woman, Hanae (Shiori Doi), is woken by a phone call informing her she has been unsuccessful in a recent job application. Meanwhile, Gohei (Motomi Makiguchi), an old man caring for his son Shunsaku (Masatoshi Nagase) who has been paralysed from the neck down since a motorbike accident some years previously, finds his latest attempt to hire a carer ending in failure, Shunsaku deliberately making obscene comments towards the earnest young woman leaving her so upset that she leaves in tears and does not return. After hearing Gohei discussing his problem on a local radio show, Hanae decides to apply for the job the only thing being that she herself is blind which is why she’s been having so much trouble trying to find employment. 

Gohei has his doubts, but after talking to the young woman and witnessing her take no notice of Shunsaku’s attempts to make her uncomfortable, he decides to take her on in part because she reminds him of his late wife and he instinctively feels that he can trust her. As we discover, that’s something all the more pressing to Gohei because not only is he finding it increasingly difficult to care for his son as he himself ages but is also suffering with a serious medical condition and worrying who will look after him once he’s gone. For all these reasons he places a heavier responsibility on Hanae than she had expected, showing her where the spare key is in case she needs to get in when he’s out and even handing over their passbooks and bank cards. A little shocked, Hanae asks him if that’s really necessary, how does he know she won’t just run off with them but he simply tells her that he knows she’s not the sort of person who would do something like that and indeed she isn’t. 

As she later reveals, Hanae has no family of her own repeatedly reminding Shunsaku that he was lucky to have parents that loved and cared for him as much as they did. She becomes in a sense a member of the family, Gohei telling hospital staff she is his daughter while later even Shunsaku claims to be her husband in order to make a point. Yet the arrangement is not one that all find suitable, Shunsaku’s snooty aunts instantly taking against Hanae on the grounds that they cannot believe a blind woman could care for a paralysed man while simultaneously attempting to chase Shunsaku out of his home he fears disguising their desire to get their hands on the inheritance as concern for his wellbeing. They continue to infantilise him, refusing his right to make his own decisions over his life even though he is a man in his 40s of entirely sound mind insisting he should be put away in a nursing home rather than allowed to live as independently as possible in a house which he owns. 

Tellingly Shunsaku had been reluctant to leave the house afraid of the stigma and judgement he may receive from others in an ableist society, a fear later borne out by their encounter with an extremely rude man while trying to enjoy a summer a festival. Hanae who had been partially sighted since birth and lost her sight entirely five years previously reassures him that she feels people staring at her all the time but has had to become used to it in order to carry on with her life, her courage and support beginning to give him the desire to begin living again yet the world continues to place various barriers in their way eventually removing all sense of hope and possibility that the decisions they’ve made for themselves will be accepted or that they could become a conventional family supporting each other. 

“How can we live without bothering others?” Hanae eventually snaps back at the snooty aunts, signalling perhaps a slightly problematic framing that leans into the idea that Hanae and Shunsaku are burdens and that their presence is never anything other than a nuisance to those around them rather than taking others to task for their refusal to accept disabled people as equals or to treat them with basic human empathy. The conclusion is further reinforced by the bittersweet ending which echoes the film’s title implying that the pair can stay together but only by accepting exile from mainstream society and retreating into a world of two. Nevertheless, Fujimoto’s often sensitive, elegantly shot drama has genuine poignancy even in its melancholy conclusion as the marginalised heroes find solace in each other in defiance of a hostile society.


Original trailer (no subtitles)

Another World (半世界, Junji Sakamoto, 2018)

Another World poster 2Director Junji Sakamoto’s career has been more meandering than most. Shuttling between hyper masculine fighting dramas, issue movies, and broad comedies, Sakamoto has always displayed an intense interest in the depth of male friendship which where his latest feature, rural drama Another World (半世界, Hansekai), takes him. A deceptively gentle story of small-town homecoming eventually broadens into a meditation on fathers and sons, frustrated dreams, and middle-aged malaise as its three dejected heroes attempt to bridge the gulf of years between them in order to rekindle the simple, innocent friendship they forged as naive teenagers more than 20 years previously.

The drama begins when Koh (Goro Inagaki) spots childhood friend Eisuke (Hiroki Hasegawa) unexpectedly hanging around his old home, now sadly abandoned following the death of his mother. Eisuke, unlike his friends, left his hometown to join the self defence forces and see the world. He has not returned home in some years and his sudden appearance is a pleasant, if perhaps concerning, surprise. Koh calls the other leg of the triangle, Mitsuhiko (Kiyohiko Shibukawa), and the trio of teenage buddies reunite, but Eisuke still seems distant and remains holed up in his family home rarely venturing outside, reluctant to confide in his old friends about whatever it is that he’s going through.

Meanwhile, the small town guys have problems of their own. Koh made the stubborn decision to take over his father’s charcoal business mostly to spite him, but times have changed and not only is demand dwindling but his product is unfavourably compared to his dad’s. Despite a seemingly happy marriage to the supportive Hatsuno (Chizuru Ikewaki), his home environment is also tense with resentment high between father and son as Koh struggles to relate to sullen teen Akira (Rairu Sugita) who is, unbeknownst to him, being bullied by the local delinquents. Unique among the three, Mitsuhiko has never married and still lives at home where he helps out with the family’s struggling car dealership, but remains cheerful in himself and is the most invested in maintaining the relationship between his two best friends in place of forging new relationships of his own.

Eisuke brings a new dynamic back with him as he struggles to readapt to small town life. As Koh suggests, he likely came back because he didn’t know where else to go but to his old friends even if he doesn’t quite want to let them help him. Now divorced and struggling with PTSD from his time in service as well as guilt over the death of a colleague, Eisuke provides an unexpected source of support for the conflicted Akira as he teaches him how to fight in order to defend himself while imparting what he knows of Koh in order to smooth the path between father and son. Koh, he tells him, had a bad relationship with his own violent dad who forbad him from the charcoal business which is exactly why he rebelled and did it anyway. Still fighting the ghost of his father, Koh has not found a way to connect with his son other than to let him be.

In a sense, each of these now middle-aged men is living in their own individual worlds as they push back against the forces of desperation but as Koh tells Eisuke, this small town existence is the “real world” too. Eisuke longs for escape, eventually retreating to a life on the sea after exposing his barely suppressed rage through an ill-advised show of violence which was itself in service of friendship. He superficially rejects the attempts of his friends to bring him back into the intimacy of their younger days as if fearing he no longer belongs in this ordinary world of wholesome small-town pleasures, but continues to search for the time capsule they buried all those years ago as if longing to recover their buried innocence.

Yet there is hope for the younger generation at least. Akira, coming to understand his father, accepts that he has a choice and eventually decides to honour both his father’s legacy and his own desires as he ponders the lonely life of a charcoal maker while putting on the boxing gloves that will allow him to fight for a freer future. Tragedies strike, life doesn’t turn out liked you hoped, but it goes on all the same with or without you. A warm if melancholy tribute to the healing power of friendship and its capacity to endure despite the weight of ages, Another World puts middle-aged malaise in perspective as its three disappointed heroes begin to find accommodation with where their choices, informed by those who came before, have led them, finding both peace and resignation in their in their ordinary small-town existence.


Another World was screened as part of the 2019 Nippon Connection Film Festival.

Original trailer (no subtitles)