QCinema 2022 Asian Next Wave: ‘Elehiya’ review

Written by Jayson Laniba

Cherie Gil remains to be one of this generation’s best actresses, and her passing away in August early this year leaves a hole in our hearts forever. Sadly, this film which serves as her last big screen performance is not the exquisite swan song we expected it to be.

The film follows Dra. Celina De Miranda (Gil) who returns to Mirador, her ex-husband’s ancestral villa, to follow his wish to have his ashes scattered into the sea. She hopes that in this way, she and her husband will finally have their own closure. But right after she arrives on the island, she is confronted by the ghosts of her husband’s past affairs and haunted by her frustration of not being able to bear him a child, which may have led to their failed marriage. On top of this, her husband’s ashes get stolen before she could accomplish her plans. She believes one of his former mistresses on the island took him. Unable to bid her farewell properly, she plunges into desolation, and finds herself attracted to her husband’s possible illegitimate son, Jasper (Ross Pesigan). 

“Elehiya” poster designed by Justin Besana (courtesy of QCinema).

Originally entitled “Mirador” (which I think is the more fitting title here), this psychological drama from writers Raquel Villavicencio and director Loy Arcenas works so hard to find its footing, but like its main character who’s desperate to get her closure, this film also never finds one. It’s a shame actually, because Gil gives another wonderful performance here, but the film itself fails to live up even just to her presence. While I understand that the film had a rather difficult journey just to get to the big screen after the country and the entire world got swept by the pandemic and its stars passed away before the movie’s completion, it’s simply difficult to look past its faults and flaws.

It starts slow, complementing its character’s state of mind. She’s mourning the loss of her husband, Rafael De Miranda – a beloved doctor of the island, but behind the comforts of their villa lies all his infidelities. Still, she loves him for what he was and longs for his presence and even his touch. She never even liked Mirador as “it moans and groans under the weight of the family’s history.” But for him, she’s willing to spend a few days in their villa so she could accomplish his wishes. 

The script becomes rather playful, even lurid at some point in the film’s second act, when she starts to lose herself and becomes attracted to Rafael’s rumored illegitimate son to one of the villa’s maids (Sue Prado). Here, the pacing picks up as she tries desperately to get close to him. It’s not clear how all of this happened: Is it because he reminds her of her late husband, or is she acting under the influence by the villa who seemed to drive everyone who lives in it mad, figuratively (like how Rafael, his brother, and even Jasper act like wild, horny animals, turning the place into their own motel) and literally (like Jasper’s mom). This could have been fun, but Arcenas treats the entire film too seriously despite the ridiculous premise. Things become increasingly crazy, but the direction doesn’t seem to notice it. Because of this, the film falls flat from start to finish, wasting its potential.

The visuals, similar to the direction, also looks bland, with the camera work having the quality of a digital movie from the early 2000s. It’s as if the one holding the camera got his hands on a digicam for the first time, zooming in and out repeatedly in many scenes like shooting a home video. 

Performance-wise, Gil shines as she embraces the character of Celine, with a committed turn that keeps you hooked from start to finish. Other than her, the rest of the cast seems to be on autopilot. She’s the only one who gives this film some life, but sadly that’s not enough to save the entire film from turning into a big disappointment. 

Once the credit rolls, one can’t help but feel empty and dissatisfied. The film comes and goes with a whimper, and much like its protagonist, it isn’t sure where it’s heading or where it wants to go. For sure, Cherie Gil’s memory lives on, but sadly, not in this movie.

QCinema 2022 Asian Next Wave: ‘Plan 75’ review

★★★½ 

Written by Jayson Laniba

“Surely, the elderly don’t want to be a blight in our generation,” an unknown man whispers in the opening of this dystopian Japanese drama from director Chie Hayakawa. It’s a cold and striking way to start the film, but it effectively sets the overall tone for the rest of Hayakawa’s drama.

Set in the near future, Japan has declared an aging population crisis, which in turn has contributed to many hate crimes towards the elderly. As a solution, the Japanese government created a program called Plan 75, encouraging senior citizens of ages 75 and up to be voluntarily euthanized to remedy their super-aged society. The program provides a $1,000 preparation grant to those who will apply for it, which they can use for anything they desire or to pass it to their loved ones. They even offer a “group plan” as a package to be cremated or buried together with old friends. “Some applicants don’t feel lonely that way,” a salesman claims. There’s even a Plan 75 Platinum, which offers a staycation for one day and two nights and comes with a super deluxe meal at a facility complete with a pool, hot spring, photo studio, and even a spa massage. Isn’t that so enticing?

Still from “Plan 75” (courtesy of QCinema).

From here on, we follow three individuals who are connected to the program, one way or another. Mishi Kakutani (Chieko Baisho) is an elderly woman who loses the means to live independently after one of her co-workers (also a senior citizen like her) had an accident in the hotel they’re working at. After they were let go by the company, she tries to look for a new job, but no one will hire her anymore because of her age. Alone and hopeless, she starts to consider signing up for the plan. On the other hand, Himoru Okabe (Hayato Isomura) is a pragmatic Plan 75 salesman who starts to discover the dark truths behind their program when his estranged uncle signs up for it. Lastly, Maria (Stefanie Arianne) is a young Filipino caregiver who’s about to face choices of life and death as she takes on a job at the Plan 75 facility.

An expansion of her critically lauded short film of the same name, Chie Hayakawa effectively tackles this generation’s fear of death and growing old in this slow burn, dystopian drama. It’s even more astounding since the film’s premise was inspired by the Sagamihara stabbings, which was a hate crime that rocked Japan back on July 26, 2016, wherein 19 people were killed, and 26 victims were injured at a residential care center for the disabled in Kanagawa Prefecture. With this film, Hayakawa puts a spotlight on Japan’s stigma, being less accepting of physically and cognitively impaired persons, including the elderly. With such a premise, this could have easily been a manipulative drama, but Hayakawa manages to tackle her points with such care and sensitivity. The loneliness and isolation, particularly of Mishi’s character as she desperately calls her daughter but gets no answer repeatedly, resonates on screen. So when she finally bid her goodbyes on her last phone call to a local call center for the elderly who joined the Plan 75 program, let’s just say that no eye was left dry.

Eighty-one year-old veteran actress Chieko Baisho delivers a gut-wrenching yet restrained performance that keeps the entire picture moving, as Misha, one of the elders who have considered signing up for the program. Hayato Isomura also shines as Himoru, a Plan 75 salesman whose beliefs and faith in their program are tested along in the film. Filipina actress Stefanie Arianne is also effective as she plays the caregiver Maria, whose character was created to be a straightforward comparison to the Japanese’ lack of empathy with their elderly.

An admittedly slow-moving yet incredibly absorbing meditation on our inner fears of death, growing old and being alone, this Japanese drama is a haunting and thought-provoking film that will linger with you long after the credits roll.

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