Film with ‘strong Filipino character’ competes in Cannes

CANNES, France, May 19 ------ Plan 75, a Japan-Philippines-France co-production with “a strong Filipino character,” competes here in the 75th Cannes Film Festival.

Japanese filmmaker Chie Hayakawa’s feature directing debut, which she also wrote, is entered in Un Certain Regard, a section of the world’s most prestigious film festival, which opened on May 17. The drama, whose key figures include Filipinos Alemberg Ang (co-producer) and Wilfredo Manalang (executive producer), imagines a time when Japan implements a government program, Plan 75, that encourages its elderly folks to be euthanized to remedy an aged society. The plot revolves around a senior woman (veteran actress Chieko Baisho of Howl’s Moving Castle), whose means of survival are disappearing, a pragmatic Plan 75 salesman (Hayato Isomura), and a Filipina caregiver (Stefanie Arianne) who face a choice of life or death. The film also stars Taka Takao and Yumi Kawai.

Asked what inspired Chie to include a Filipino caregiver in the story, she answered, “There are so many foreign caregivers coming to Japan because of labor shortage, especially in the field of elderly nursing homes.” “The Philippines is one of the biggest countries to provide caregivers to Japan. The reason why I chose a Filipino caregiver is because I have an impression that Filipino people have strong family and community bonds that we Japanese are losing.” “They have a spirit of helping each other that may be rooted in their religion or cultural background. I feel that they have a national characteristic of affection and philanthropism.” “I wanted to contrast the warm Filipino community with the apathetic community in Japan. I also wanted to include the eyes of a foreigner who looks at Japanese society objectively.”

On why she cast Japan-based Pinay actress Stefanie, Chie replied, “She is a very affable and brave person. Her gaze and presence made a strong impression on me.” “Maria is a character who is so determined to live for herself and her daughter. Stefanie’s down-to-earth presence breathes life into Maria.” “She often gave me ideas during the shoot that helped me a lot. I really appreciated it. I am very proud of her.”

The filmmaker, who made several shorts before Plan 75, shared how she heard the news that her first feature movie was going to the famed festival on the Croisette. “I was working on the post-production in Paris for two months,” Chie began. “It was the last day of my stay. I was really rushing. I concentrated on finishing sound in the studio. When Philippe, our sound designer, and I finished the work and started to export the file, I heard an exultant shout from the office upstairs. Immediately after, Frédéric, our executive producer, knocked on the door and told us, ‘We’re in Cannes!’ It was a happy moment I will never forget. Cannes was my first film festival experience, when my short film (Niagara) was selected for Cinefondation in 2014. I am very pleased to be there again with my first feature.”

The Tokyo-born writer-director talked about the genesis of Plan 75. “In the summer of 2016, a man murdered 19 disabled people, purporting that severely disabled people have no worth staying alive and that his deed was an act of mercy. In his letter describing his motive, he used the words, ‘vitalization of the world economy.’ His logic was that the existence of disabled people hinders economic activity and that economic value is more important than human lives. I don’t believe that this way of thinking is confined to one deranged murderer. In our society where economic value is prized over everything else, I cannot help thinking that there are, in fact, many people who share similar emotions. Our capitalist society, which values rationality and productivity, creates the distinction between ‘worthy lives’ and ‘worthless lives.’ And critical views on socially weak people get stronger by the day. My anger and anxiety toward such intolerance of society motivated me to make this film.”

Alemberg, whose many producing credits include Loy Arcenas’ Ang Larawan (The Portrait), recounted how the Japanese-Filipino-French co-production come about. “I was attending Focus Asia, the industry section of the Udine Far East Film Festival, pitching another project when I was introduced to Eiko and Jason Gray. They were working on a Japanese film with Filipino elements and someone in Focus Asia introduced me to them. Jason was hoping that perhaps I can help them with it. That basically started my involvement in the project. I met Chie when I participated at Talents Tokyo in 2014. Talents Tokyo is a training initiative for Asian producers and directors. It’s affiliated with Berlinale Talents. She was also a participant there.”

Alemberg shared how he tapped Wilfredo as one of the producers. In addition to Alemberg and Wilfredo, the other producers are Jason Gray, Eiko Mizuno Gray, Frederic Corvez and Maeva Savinien. “I remember writing to Will, telling him how happy I am how his projects have been steadily taking off,” Alemberg recalled. “That eventually led to a conversation about what he was currently doing.” “Will just left ABS-CBN’s international division and was starting his own company. That’s when I started pitching the projects that I was working on with him.”

Wilfredo, for his part, said, “When Alemberg approached me with his slate of projects, I immediately gravitated to the premise of Plan 75. The struggles of the characters in the dystopian world, the politics underlying the subject matter, and the inclusion of a Filipino story in the mix were some of the elements that hooked me. Plus, I have a soft spot for and fascination with Japanese culture. Somehow, the timing was perfect. I’ve been setting up FUSEE with my partners, Alicia Watt and George Sommerrock, when this project fell into my lap. As a creative content company, our goal is to uplift and bring Filipinx representation into the forefront.”

“Plan 75 is the perfect first project for us, given the strong Filipino character in it and Maria’s story touches on the fundamental issues Filipino families go through on a daily basis. I’m hoping we can do more international co-productions in the future. We’re just starting. We have a couple of things in the pipeline that’s in development. And I’m excited for Cinemalaya Film Festival 2022. Our project, Blue Room, by Ma-an Asuncion-Dagnalan, another feature film debut by a female director, will have its premiere.”, he continued.

Wilfredo bared how Stefanie was cast. Plan 75 follows another high profile Japanese film, Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Oscar and Golden Globe winning film, Drive My Car, which also features a Filipino actor, Perry Dizon.