The year is 2020. On a fictitious planet, the average life expectancy has reached 500 years, thanks to advances in medicine--especially in organ transplantation and artificial blood production.

But the planet is beginning to run short of young, healthy bodies, and the aliens travel through time to Tokyo of the 1960s to snatch healthy earthlings.

The above is from "2020 no Chosen" (2020 Challenge), an episode from the vastly popular "tokusatsu" (special effects) sci-fi TV series "Ultra Q."

This episode aired in 1966, two years after the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. The "Ultra" in the series title came from "ultra C," a fad expression of the time denoting a technique of the highest difficulty in gymnastics, in which Japan had excelled at the Olympics.

Using science fiction as its milieu, the "Ultra Q" series delved into problems of pollution and other negative side-effects of Japan's postwar economic miracle, and warned society against its collective smugness over the successful Olympics.

The "2020 Challenge" episode was exceptionally well made. It is believed to have inspired the "Ultraman" spin-off series that also proved highly popular.

If I were to put a title to the policy speech given by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Nov. 17, I would go with something like "2020 Challenge: Contemporary Version."

In his 15-minute address, Abe referred to the year 2020 four times. He talked of realizing, by fiscal 2020, "free early childhood education," creating "child care facilities for 320,000 children," eliminating "contaminated soil, starting with nearby sites" in Fukushima Prefecture, and keeping up "intensive investments in productivity revolution."

Even before that, Abe had set 2020 as the target for fulfilling all sorts of policies, including those concerning women's advancement in society, aid for developing nations and correcting the over-concentration of various functions in Tokyo.

And he even declared once, "I would like to bring a new Constitution into effect in the year of the (2020) Tokyo Olympics."

Anything is easier said than done. Even with an "ultra C" or "ultra Q," it would be next to impossible for Abe to achieve all those difficult reforms in a single sweep.

All the expectations being placed on 2020 are beginning to make me feel really sorry for the year.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 18

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.