A film-maker imagines a Japan where the elderly volunteer to die

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TOKYO (NYTIMES) - Japanese film director Chie Hayakawa was germinating the idea for a screenplay when she decided to test her premise on elderly friends of her mother and other acquaintances. Her question: If the government sponsored a euthanasia programme for people aged 75 and above, would you consent to it?

"Most people were very positive about it," said Hayakawa. "They didn't want to be a burden on other people or their children."

To Hayakawa, the seemingly shocking response was a powerful reflection of Japan's culture and demographics.

In her first feature-length film, Plan 75, which won a special distinction at the Cannes Film Festival this month, the government of a near-future Japan promotes quiet institutionalised deaths and group burials for older people who are lonely, with cheerful salespeople pitching them the idea as if hawking travel insurance.

"The mindset is that if the government tells you to do something, you must do it,"said Hayakawa, 45, in an interview in Tokyo before the film's opening in Japan on June 17.

Following the rules and not imposing on others, she said, are cultural imperatives "that make sure you don't stick out in a group setting".

With a lyrical, understated touch, Hayakawa has taken on one of the biggest elephants in the room in Japan - the challenges of dealing with the world's oldest society.

Euthanasia is illegal in the country, but it occasionally arises in grisly criminal contexts. In 2016, a man killed 19 people in their sleep at a centre for people with disabilities outside Tokyo, claiming that such people should be euthanised because they "have extreme difficulty living at home or being active in society".

The incident gave Hayakawa an idea.

"I don't think that was an isolated incident or thought process within Japanese society," she said. "It was already floating around. I was very afraid that Japan was turning into a very intolerant society."

To Ms Kaori Shoji, who has written about film and the arts for The Japan Times and the BBC and saw an earlier version of Plan 75, the movie did not seem dystopian. "She's just telling it like it is," said Ms Shoji. "S...

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