Interview with Chie HAYAKAWA on her debut feature : Plan 75 (2022)

 (Interview conducted via email in octobre 2022)

UNSPOKEN CINEMA : You studied abroad in NYC, what were your influences in the realm of photography and cinema (Japanese ones as well as foreign ones) ?

Chie HAYAKAWA : Photography: Robert Frank, Diane Arbus, Mario Giacomelli, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Daido Moriyama, Nobuyoshi Araki, Shoji Ueda


U.C. : What was the subject of your first short film « Plan 75 », the short film produced by Kore-eda (director of After-Life), precursor of this present feature-length film.

C.H. : Short version of PLAN 75 was one of 5 collections of short films from TEN YEARS JAPAN (2018) depicting Japanese society 10 years later, for which Kore-eda served as executive producer. When I was first contacted by a producer of TYJ, I already had a concept of PLAN 75 as a feature film as an ensemble drama with 5 main characters. To make it 18-minute short film, I picked one character and focused on his story. It’s about a salesman (municipal officer) who promotes the plan to the elderly. He and his pregnant wife have a dilemma over whether to send his mother-in-law, who has dementia, to this scheme.


U.C. : The look of your film, Plan 75, reminds me of the precepts enunciated by Robert BRESSON in his 1975 book : « Notes sur le cinématographe » such as « Translate the invisible wind by the water it sculpts in passing », or “Empty the pond to get the fish.”. Were perhaps « Mouchette / 少女ムシェット » (1967) or « Une femme douce / やさしい女 » (1969) conscious or unconscious influences for Plan 75 ?

C.H. :   I actually re-read « Notes sur le cinématographe » during the pre-production period of  PLAN 75. It’s one of my bibles on film. I guess I received great influence from his way of thinking about cinema, and his minimalist way of expression, the way to say without saying, or show without showing.


U.C. : All the darken shots, backlit subjects and shadowy silhouettes, could almost qualify your debut film as Neo-Noir ; but there is always a bit of light, however dimmed, coming from within or offscreen, in every frame… Contrasting with the much brighter Japanese film « Departures / おくりびと » (2008), dealing with the embalmment of the dead.
In your film, the only lighter shots show solely the universe of Maria, the Philippine helper ; with the exception of Michi’s point-of-view shot from the bus, with the sun filling the screen for a brief moment.
Are these (the darker shots and the brighter shots) giving the mood to the story, that the absent dramatic scenes are not ?

C.H. : I was trying to depict the beauty of life with this sunlight. Michi, the protagonist, loves her life and is content with her life, which is very modest and humble. Maria is full of life and is very enthusiastic to live and to save the life of her child. Meanwhile, Hiromu, a man works for the system, is in an environment in which no sunlight reaches him but in artificial florescent light, which symbolises the inhumanity of the system.


U.C. : With the scan of a barcode at the wrist, the death by a gas mask, the retrieval of personal belongings (like in Boltanski’s installation), the cremation, the recycling of ashes… many details recall the modus operandi of the Nazis’ Final Solution during WWII, equating this voluntary euthanasia of the Japanese elderly to a mass extermination like the Holocaust. Why the use of such an upsetting imagery ?

C.H. : In terms of depriving human dignity, the idea of PLAN 75 is connected to the Holocaust in the fundamental level. So Iwas conscious to use such a motif in this film.


U.C : Meanwhile, one of the elder collects his blood-donor cards from Nagasaki, Hiroshima… is it to remind us of Japan’s tribute at the outcome of WWII ? And through this life-long blood sharing habit, is it showing the sacrifice of the post war generation before the rebuilding of Japan, which the ungrateful younger generation benefits from now ?

C.H. : It doesn’t have a big meaning that I chose Nagasaki and Hiroshima. I just thought that it’d be easier for foreign audience to know that he is talking about Japanese cities. As for blood sharing, what you pointed out is right. Also, it shows that he is a person who is eager to contribute to society so that he feels that he is useful. Having lived a lonely life with no family, no blood relatives (no contact with his nephew for many years), he wanted to do something to connect himself with others by donating (connecting) his blood to others.


U.C. : What do your film and Soylent Green (1973) have in common, very different mise-en-scene on a similar subject ?

C.H. : I don’t really find a similarity with this film. I didn’t get inspired by it.


U.C. : If we except the TV newscast excerpts, the film feels devoid of a larger societal context, seen firsthand… By focusing on 3 protagonists and their colleagues, we never see the reaction of Japan at large to this new policy. One strong reaction takes the form of rotten tomatoes projected at the Plan 75 poster by young people (one assumes), riding away on a motorcycle offscreen. Is it foreign to Japanese culture to protest or standout from the crowd to shout out one’s disagreement ? Does it contribute to the passive atmosphere of the film where all tragic instants are omitted ?

C.H. : I wanted to depict the passiveness and obedient characteristics of Japanese people who follow rules and systems. People tend to give up easily on protesting and obey. I think that it’s very dangerous that people stop thinking and get used to obeying the government or decision-makers.


U.C. : In many shots, the focal plane isolates one figure from the rest of the frame remaining out of focus. Beguining with the opening shot entirely blurry until the killer shows up. This is a technique that stroke me in « An Elephant Sitting Still » (2018). Did you happen to see Hu Bo’s film ? And what is your narrative intention in excluding part of the image for the spectator (like Wong Kar-wai does with over-framing) ?

C.H. : I watched « An Elephant Sitting Still » but I don’t remember the scene.

As for the opening scene, and the very last cut as well, my DOP, Hideho Urata and I chose to make it out of focus in order to depict ambiguity of world chaos.


U.C. : Do you feel a kindred spirit with the films of Naomi Kawase, maybe most precisely Suzaku (1997), which develops the same kind of icy and distant atmosphere… ?

C.H. : Not really. I like the film though.

U.C. : You make use of the Nape shot several times (the killer, the Plan 75 worker, the Philippine helper), which is a staple of Contemplative Cinema since the Dardenne brothers’ Rosetta (1999). What is the significance of a Nape shot according to you ?
You also appropriate the Camera address (installed by Bergman’s Monika, 1953), twice. With Michi first, right after the news blaming the eldelry, thus calling the spectators’ stance into question. Secondly with the young phone operator, as she overhears her superior tells recruits to make sure the elders never quit the program. Do you think these techniques create an emotional, visceral, connection with the audience ?

C.H. : I guess that I wanted to create a sense of immersion by pulling audience’s attention immediately into the character and make them feel the sense of space where the character exists.

For the second question, yes. I wanted to make the audience feel that they can’t be a bystander, but they are a part of the story, a part of this cruel society.