By Kim Ji-soo

A lazy late Friday afternoon in Seoul is usually not the time one expects to see many moviegoers. But last week, there were many, in particular, older adults mingling at a theater in Seoul, as the surprisingly popular documentary about Korea’s first president, Syngman Rhee, is currently playing in theaters. That documentary has gathered some 700,000 people so far.

This column, however, is about yet another movie titled “Plan 75” (2022), a thought-provoking movie by Japanese director Chie Hayakawa about a state-coerced arrangement for death for those 75 years or older. It’s a fictional story where super-aged Japan crafts a plan for citizens to sign up for assisted state medicide in return for 100,000 yen ($666).

The rapid shift to a super-aged society — where more than 20 percent of its population is 65 or older — is a hotly debated issue in Korea as well. The movie is neither pleasant nor comfortable to sit through for much of its reel time. If anyone chooses to watch it, just be forewarned. This writer went to see how the movie interpreted the dilemma and challenges faced by Japan's super-aged society. There was also the hope that the film from the fastest-aging industrialized nation would prompt Koreans to think and gain insight and ideas on managing its own aging population.

Japan, by 2021, saw its citizens aged 65 or older constitute nearly 30 percent of its total population. South Korea is expected to have more than 20 percent of its population aged 65 or older by 2025. There is another element that amplifies fear. Everything moves slightly faster in and for South Korea.

Statistics Korea’s 2022 figures estimated that while it took 10 years for Japan and 15 years for the United States to transition from an aged society to a super-aged one, it will most likely take seven years for Korea.

The movie begins with a grim shooting spree by a young man at a geriatric hospital. He kills himself in the end but seems to justify his actions with the rhetoric that the increasing number of older adults was creating financial burdens for the younger generation and that older adults, too, don’t want to add to society's burden.

Still, the idea of “Plan 75,” in which people over 75 sign up for peaceful death, is difficult to digest, even as declining birthrates and increasing life expectancy put a burden on most societies around the world. Korea, too, has its share of problems, such as abuse and violence against older adults at the hands of privately hired caretakers and, in some, in-family murders when the caretaker is another family member.

The film sheds light on what voluntarily choosing death for a small amount of cash and counseling assistance would entail, mainly through two of its protagonists. One woman, a 78-year-old widow living alone and forcibly retired from her job, and a man who is a cousin of a government official carrying out the scheme. The nuanced scenes speak loudly of the protagonists’ inner turmoil, anguish, indecision and decisions. When the woman chooses to flee from “Plan 75” at the eleventh hour, a certain respect for human life springs up in her heart. That may have been what its director, who was recently in Seoul, intended for the viewers to feel.

The fact that such a stark, odd film has emerged illustrates a sense of urgency of the crisis aging societies are feeling. It’s better for Korean society to be able to openly ruminate and discuss difficult issues facing the country, where things happen quickly.

Kim Ji-soo is an editorial writer at The Korea Times.

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Lens on aging society, mortality

24 0
21.02.2024
By Kim Ji-soo

A lazy late Friday afternoon in Seoul is usually not the time one expects to see many moviegoers. But last week, there were many, in particular, older adults mingling at a theater in Seoul, as the surprisingly popular documentary about Korea’s first president, Syngman Rhee, is currently playing in theaters. That documentary has gathered some 700,000 people so far.

This column, however, is about yet another movie titled “Plan 75” (2022), a thought-provoking movie by Japanese director Chie Hayakawa about a state-coerced arrangement for death for those 75 years or older. It’s a fictional story where super-aged Japan crafts a plan for citizens to sign up for assisted state medicide in return for 100,000 yen ($666).

The rapid shift to a super-aged society — where more than 20 percent of its population is 65 or older — is a hotly debated issue in Korea as........

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