This is the case for Michi (Chieko Baisho), an elderly woman who is let go from her job at a hotel at the beginning of the film. Customers have been complaining that it makes them sad to see elderly people still working, management explains. That’s all well and good, except that Michi has no family and too much dignity to accept welfare payments. She wants to work, but no one will hire her, and landlords won’t rent apartments to unemployed tenants. What is left for her but to die?
“Plan 75” follows Michi and her group of friends, who discuss the luxury amenities at a Plan 75 facility with the excitement of an impending resort vacation. Much of the film’s discomfort comes from the contrast between the program’s chipper face and its bleak reality: Bureaucrats sell customized death packages with the same tone as peddling insurance, and the logo for the mass euthanasia plan turns the “P” and the “A” into eyes in a cartoon smiley face.
As Michi moves through the Plan 75 system, her storyline interacts with those of Plan 75 employees, each facing a unique moral dilemma related to their work. Hiromu (Hayato Isomura) is a Plan 75 bureaucrat whose apathy is challenged when his uncle Yukio (Taka Takao) applies for the program. Maria (Stefanie Arianne) is a Filipino immigrant who takes on the taboo job of undressing the corpses and preparing them for cremation in order to pay for her daughter’s heart surgery.
These character arcs play out in subtle, naturalistic ways, with restrained performances that underline the tension between the film’s polite surface and unsettling subtext. (Baisho is particularly good as the conflicted Michi, whose desperation and resignation are reflected in her eyes.) The tone is too delicate to fully swing into horror, although Hayakawa and composer Rémi Boubal use never-shredding minor-key strings in the score. A violent hate crime in the opening scene takes place off camera, and the film’s most horrific revelation—that Plan 75 is selling “clients’” ashes to a recycling company for profit—unfolds in silence. Instead, Hayakawa allows the political implications to speak for themselves, which means that fully digesting the film’s provocative message depends on at least some cursory context.
One of the things “Plan 75” asks its viewers is, “What makes a life worth living?” It’s a question answered in poignant scenes of Michi washing her last dish and enjoying a misty predawn morning on the balcony of her high-rise apartment. If anything, the note it lands on here is a bit anodyne. But apparently, people do need to hear it: A newscast towards the end of the movie announces that Plan 75 is a success—so much so that the government is considering lowering the qualifying age to 65.
Now playing in select theaters.