Ten Years Japan (Japan, 2018) [JAPAN CUTS 2019]

Ten Years Japan is the latest addition to the ‘Ten Years’ project which kicked off with Ten Years Hong Kong in 2015 and was followed by Ten Years Thailand in 2018. The premise of the series is an imagining of the world ten years in the future. The first two films were, as you might expect, heavily linked to the respective nation’s recent socio-political upheavals. Ten Years Hong Kong presented the semi-autonomous nation in 2025 as struggling to cope under their authoritarian mainland neighbour. The film was a huge box -office hit but its controversial content meant it was eventually pulled from cinemas under pressure from China. Although clearly different in nature, Thailand is also in the middle of a constitutional crisis and Ten Years Thailand was very much engaged with exploring concepts of democracy, freedom and the reality of military dictatorship.

Ten Years Japan is markedly different in tone to the previous anthologies. Japanese politics may have its problems but they are far removed from the situation in Thailand and Hong Kong. Therefore, in this nation so famed for SONY, Akihabara, anime and pachinko, it is not surprising that technology plays a central role in the visions of the future offered in Ten Years Japan. More than one critic has noted the similarity to the British-penned show Black Mirror and both share a fearful vision of a technologically enhanced future that renders humans at the mercy of their own creations.

Given Japan’s concern about its ageing population, age plays a key role in the first film, Chie Hayakawa’s Plan 75. The title is the name of a solution that many have proposed in the past – and has recently been seen in the horror film Midsommar (2019) – voluntary euthanasia when your life cycle is deemed to be up. Plan 75 is a business venture and we see sales staff offering well-scripted pitches, together with bright and positive videos and posters, to the inhabitants of care homes and community centres. They present Plan 75 as a method to grant dignity in both life and death: the client is given some money to live the high life before they are taken to a clinic to be terminated. As one elderly citizen notes, ‘longevity is shameful’, but when a Plan 75’s salesman’s own mother-in-law signs a contact, he finds himself debating the rights and wrongs of the policy he promotes. Yusuke Kimoshita’s Mischievous Alliance sees children implanted with personalised education and surveillance devices that punish them for any deviation as the school and government seek to mould their youth into the perfect citizens.  The mischievous alliance of the title is between three children and a horse they decide to rescue from his upcoming trip to the slaughterhouse.

For this reviewer, the third film Data raised some of the most interesting and nuanced questions. A teenage girl is allowed via, ‘Digital Inheritance’, to access her dead mother’s phone and all the contents therein. Pictures, texts, emails abound offering a possibility of connection but as the girl comes to realise, personal data may hold some unpalatable information. There are some lovely scenes in the film that provide a real sense of emotion, pathos and the simple desire of a daughter to understand her long-dead mother. She opts for a mixture of recreation and exploration. We see her dress in her mother’s clothes and seek to find the site the exact location of a picture of flowers she has found on the phone. The desire to both capture and engage with someone now gone is both powerful and subtle and makes Megumi Tsuno a director to follow.

In The Air We Can’t See, Akiyo Fujimura taps into endless fears about the decline in the environment by focusing on a little girl who lives in an underground bunker safe from a toxic world we are told now exists on the earth’s surface. As the girl and her friend secretly collect sounds and items of the old world they are gradually drawn to childish fantasies about the wonderful world above and when her friend vanishes the girls begins to fantasise about heading to the surface for herself. Kei Ishikawa’s For Our Beautiful Country finishes the series with one of the more overtly political offerings – the return of the draft whilst Japan is involved in an undefined overseas conflict. As a senior designer and a younger executive play VR video games, we are reminded that underneath all the new technology, much older motivations and realities play out on a never seen battlefront.

Whilst the final film has some more pointed references, compared to its Hong Kong and Thai counterparts, Ten Years Japan seems rather lightweight. One element to be admired about Ten Years Japan is that, although it is curated by Hirokazu Kore-eda, all the directors featured are all relatively inexperienced. Giving new voices a chance rather than endlessly presenting the same old ones is to be admired and supported but it is also a pity that there are no ground-breaking, highly alternative visions to be found in this collection. Still, even though the respective works here are not tremendously memorable, all are well-crafted and well-conceived and perhaps, most importantly, enjoyable to watch.

Ten Years Japan was shown at JAPAN CUTS 2019 on July 20.