With the Hong Kong omnibus narrative “Ten Years” becoming a surprise hit in 2015, it might not come as a surprise that the concept – envisioning the near future of one’s country – inspired various versions in Asia. For the Japanese version, five young directors Chie Hayakawa, Yusuke Kinoshita, Megumi Tsuno, Akiyo Fujimura and Kei Ishikawa were gathered and supervised by Hirokazu Koreeda to present their vision of Japan’s future.
Chie Hayakama’s “Plan 75” concerns a young bureaucrat (Satoru Kawaguchi) charged with explaining Plan 75, a governmental euthanasia program, to poor and disabled seniors aged 75 and above – especially those reliant on governmental welfare and thus burdening society from an economical perspective. One day, his pregnant wife (Kinuo Yamada) tells him that her mother signed to papers to join the program.
The second narrative, Yusuke Kinoshita’s “Mischievous Alliance”, frames the story of a pilot study of Promise, an AI system wired to the brains of children that, by monitoring their every word and action, enforces moral values. When the rebellious Ryota hears of Promise’s advice to kil the ailing horse Rocky, Ryota, with the help of Mayu and Daisuke, try to set Rocky free.
The theme of Ai Tsuno’s “Data” is obviously about data. One day, Maika (Hana Sugisaki) decides to access her deceased mother’s digital inheritance card without letting her father (Tetsushi Tanaka) know. As she explores her mother’s date, she learns a rather disturbing truth.
“In The Air We Can’t See” Akiyo Fujimura shows a Japan where the air is so polluted by a nuclear disaster that the Japanese government sees no other option than to move its subjects permanently underground. Mizuki, born in such an underground city for ten years does not know anything about the life above ground. Then one day her friend Kaede, obsessed with escaping the city, disappears.
Last but not least, Kei Ishikawa’s “Utsukushii Kuni” is about a young ad agency worker (Taiga) who is charged with the duty to tell a distinguished artist (Hana Kino) that her design for the ad campaign to recruit youth to fight for their Japan has been scrapped.
Looking at the various narratives, one quickly realizes that the scenarios of our five young directors are not that difficult to imagine – touching upon themes of life and death, social obedience, and technology. By way of its realism, this anthology is not mere science-fiction, but a powerful warning against the dangers of tomorrow – those dangers with roots in the very present and the very societal functioning of today.
Hayakama uses the already pressing problem in Japanese society of an aging population. Her narrative succeeds to confront and offend the spectator by revealing the cold, calculative economical reasoning that hides behind the positively framed system of euthanasia as such. Even more confronting in the narrative is the revelation that this economical discourse structures is affecting of normal people as well. In other words, what Hayakama strikingly uncovers, what Hayakama wants to warn against, is nothing other than the very inhumanity such economical reasoning inherently causes.
Kinoshita, for that matter, tackles the problematic dimension of technology and its effects on the already problematic abstract notion of freedom. The system of Promise is nothing other than the creation of an Other, a third element, that sees and calculates it all – including the future the individual children should pursue. It is not that difficult to view Promise as a technologized Christian God, a technologized Name-of-the-Father devoted to securing and imposing social harmony. Besides showing the horror of such system, Kinoshita movingly evokes the need to not take the childhood of children away – to not take their nature away.
Megumi Tsuno’s narrative also concerns the theme of technology, but focuses on the possible effect of technology on information and privacy. In truth, the digital inheritance system is nothing other than a collection of voyeuristic visual material and written documents, allowing the person accessing the system a look in that person’s private life. The message is clear: the price for technological process is nothing other than one’s own privacy. And the revelation of a truth better not known underlines the fact that everyone should have the right to keep some secrets.
Within the omnibus, Akiyo Fujimura’s narrative is the odd-one out, as it paints how life could be in a sort of post-apocalyptic Japan. Nevertheless, given the past disaster of Fukushima and the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki it should not surprise us that such a narrative is featured. It should also not come as a surprise that the narrative is anti-nuclear and ecologically motivated. This is most sensible in the animation which, in combination with the music, successfully frames the beauty and wonderfulness of nature as such – revealing nature as a necessary element in a human-being’s life.
Kei Ishikawa’s closing narrative is inspired by the ongoing political debate about the role of Japan’s self-defense forces and concerns nothing other than the militarization of Japan. His narrative, while infused with some subtle humour, frames ultimately the fundamental clash between pacifism – evoked by the artist’s philosophy – and the impact of the real that war brings with it. This clash is only made truly sensible by the very last shot, which is both subtle and emotionally powerful. This shot, besides evoking the confrontation with one’s responsibility, shows that this numbness, the distance felt with respect to the place where the war is taken place, is only closed by the intrusive sense of the real.
If we take a closer look at the cinematography, it becomes obvious that each narrative is different in style – each narrative showing the particular strengths of each director. What is most remarkable of Hayakama’s cinematography is the subtle way by which she applies subtle cinematographical movement. Kinoshita also applies cinematographical movement in a pleasant way, but what is striking is how the narrative is structured by the recurring shots of nature as soiled by electricity pylons – shots that as a metaphor, subtle express and empower the narrative’s main message. Megumi Tsuno’s narrative distinguishes itself by its documentary-like style of framing. By adding a subtle shakiness to each shot, she is able to empower the realistic dimension of her narrative – the possibility of it becoming reality in the future. Akiyo Fujimura’s cinematography also distinguishes itself by a documentary-styled framing shaky shots, empowering just as the previous narrative the possible realism of her fictional narrative. But Fujimura’s narrative also shows how a subtle and effective play with colour and shadow can be used to empower one’s message. And while Kei Ishikawa’s cinematography present a mix between fixed shots and measured following shots, it is only by Ishikawa’s insistence on the following shot, an insistence that delineating the main character, that the final shot can have it moving effect.
“Ten Years Japan” provides a rather unsettling look in Japan’s future. But rather than presenting a kind of science-fiction doomsday scenario, each director created an interesting narrative that is unsettling in the very believability it evokes. The various narratives are thus more than just a passive look in the future, but an active warning of each director of the very real dangers and problems that await Japanese society. And while these alarming narratives might not be able to agitate Japanese politicians, “Ten Years Japan” is still a moving warning that everyone should see.