TEN YEARS JAPAN – Does Japan dream of electric sheep?

After a surprising domestic success of the experimental omnibus film portraying dystopic future in an anti-government fashion, that is Hongkong’s TEN YEARS (2015), it was then followed by other envisioning of anti-utopia: Thailand, Taiwan and Japan. The last one (produced by Palme D’or winner Hirokazu Koreeda) is definitely not as straight-forward as the Hongkong take, but what scares me is these events might eventually occur in the real and not-so-distant future. Instead of showing the eeriness of what may and may not happen in the nearest of times, TEN YEARS JAPAN rather comments the recent past and gives a very realistic flick to somewhat surreal right-here right-now (or maybe the other way around?). It has all that pre-Reiwa (the new age of Naruhito emperor) Japan was scared of: aging society, influence of technological progress, post-Fukushima trauma and fear of North Korea.

TEN YEARS JAPAN is divided into five independent stories set in the future directed by five newcomers. These shorts are not only to raise the awareness of society, but to warn against the future and conclude the past. Just as the emperor Akihiko has abdicated, closing the Heisei era, the omnibus film might be a turn-over for this chapter and holistic wrap-up for a Japanese modernity, in this case presented in a nutshell during 21st Far East Film Festival. Even though in most cases I’m very sceptical about novels put into one, but out of other TEN YEARS projects, I must say that Japanese omnibus not only fits the right time, but also provides an insight into alternative reality which reflects the current problems of Japan.

First novel “Plan 75” (directed by Chie Hayakawa) depicts what-ifs of euthanasia-retirement plan going live and becoming a perfect solution for aging society such as Japan. In this gloomy, yet hyper-realistic docudrama, Hayakawa tackles a reason for many headaches of ruling Shinzo Abe’s government – Japan is experiencing a ‘super-aging’, what means is that around 25% of the population is 65 or older. This number is estimated to reach a third in the next 30 years and no reasonable solution seems to be in sight. There are many reasons for such circumstances, including a low rate of natural increase and high life expectancy (currently rank 1 in the world), but also pressure of work and lack of time to focus on family, thus resulting with low fertility. Hayakawa’s “Plan 75” is very Japanese: in a way, that I would really see it coming – probably most accurate envisioning of the whole piece – due to pragmatic aspects of the program and almost pacifistic, indeed amiable approach of authorities. The target of the “Plan 75” are those who are 75 or older, with low income, sometimes struggling with a disease, without any hope, simply a burden for an ideal-wannabe society. They end up walking away with conformity in their heads, leaving the world like falling cherry blossoms, just like that.

Second chapter, titled “Mischevious Alliance” (Yusuke Kinoshita), is the most Black Mirror-esque of all five segments. It offers a futuristic vision of a society in which AI brain-reading surveillance system PROMISE controls the youth and all the action they take, preventing them from the crime (there is some vibe of anime PSYCHO-PASS), forcing them to follow career paths that would lead the kids towards brighter whereabouts. There is one boy, who stands against it and antagonize himself from the afflicting reality, trying to release an imprisoned horse from his stable. By becoming a rebel with a certain cause, he might be just trying, but the message seems to be there: small steps always count. Kinoshita’s take on future, on one surface an utmost naïve, yet another MINORITY REPORT-like piece, is somewhat alarming once you realise that the surveillance system works in China, and Japan has just launched a startup that develops AI cameras to spot shoplifters before they steal: the reality that not even Koreeda’s SHOPLIFTERS could possibly foresee, one where even morality seems to be removable.

It is then followed by Megumi Tsuno’s “Data” and Akiyo Fujimura “The Air We Can’t See” – the most subtle, done in seemingly Koreeda’s style, delicate depictions of the influence of technology. “Data” tells a story of a teenager who through “Digital Inheritance” obtains all digital data from suddenly passed away mother. This results in an avalanche of past stories that will shake her current identity and make her question the fundaments of the relationship with the widowed father. More than a sci-fi dark tale, Tsuno prepares a gentle family drama with a thesis regarding digitalization of privacy – should memories of deceased be in digital form? She leaves some space and avoids easy answers, at the same time making people hungry, as the protagonists talk through expectations of life when such inheritance program exists, while slurping their ramen noodles with genuine appreciation after what they’ve just went through.

“The Air We Can’t See” touches the post-traumatic narrative and brings the topic of nuclear disaster – another problem that Japanese society is well aware of. In what may seem as a post-Fukushima story, Fujimura focuses on a young girl living underground with the rest of survivors. She has never been outside-above, thus the image of the world she has, is entirely based on others’ tales. Once she listens to a tape in which sounds of birds and trees fulfil her rather bleak routine, she starts wondering what’s on the other side. She totally thralls to nature’s spell, becoming a committed citizen of her own fantasies of what would be like to be there. I had glimpses of Sion Sono’s “The Land of Hope” and “The Whispering Star”, when Fujimura’s sequences became suddenly dreamy and powerful, visualizing the child’s mind, capturing her wishes for the world to become once again colourful. It switches the focus: “The Air We Can’t See” is not entirely about traumas nor anti-nuclear message, instead it is a coming-of-age picture that may possibly sum up the childhood in a reality, where disaster happens on an almost daily basis.

Every year Japanese people choose a kanji sign of the year that supposedly concludes the atmosphere of country, summarizing what had happened over the past twelve months. In 2017 it was ‘north’ (kita) that reflected the fear of North Korea’s missile and nuclear tests conducted on the north of Hokkaido island. It remained in social consciousness to a degree it is filmed. Closing piece of TEN YEARS, Kei Ishikawa’s “For Our Beautiful Country” shows the aftermath of these events to a level of international war, presenting the future where Japan is again in conflict and youth is drafted to become the Kamikaze of their times. This politically affiliated black-comedy will tell you something about what Japanese can do for their beautiful country – as the protagonist’s ad agency’s slogan tries to lure youngsters to army – whilst resonating as the most anti-government of all the pieces.

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