Perfect days – the weight of the ordinary

Scene from "Perfect Days" by Wim Wenders/ Disclosure


“Perfect Days” exposes not the cracks of small everyday beauties, but the routine as a form of protection against the unexpected, the encounter, the other, reflection

Almost all the comments and analyzes I saw about Perfect days emphasize how the film highlights the beauty of small everyday things, revealing a perspective capable of perceiving what goes unnoticed by ordinary eyes. I have to disagree with this reading.

Even before watching Wim Wanders' new film, I already knew what it was about. I didn't want to read more than this small analysis mentioned above to let the film surprise me. And he succeeded. I cannot dismiss the important role that looking at beauty hidden by the rush has in the work, nor can I deny that it is something important for us, accustomed to running over small things in the name of who knows what. However, I cannot defend that this is the main point of the film.

The narrative is built on the repetition of the days of Hirayama, a methodical, obsessive, extremely organized man, whose routine never changes. Instead of feeling peace in those small moments when he observed the trees and their shadows, for example, I only felt anguish due to the suffocation caused by that automatism.

Even the observation of the ordinary beauty was totally conditioned by the pace of completing tasks. It seems that the analysts have not noticed a trivial thing: the moment in which he can be enchanted – be it with music, or with the trees, or with the man's reasonless dance in the park – does not break in any way with the self-imposed script, because already has its place in the plot.

He always puts the tape on the car radio in the same place and at the same time; His enchantment with the swaying of the trees only occurs when someone comes in to use the bathroom while he is washing, which forces him to wait outside or when he goes to have lunch, always in the same place.

Hirayama seems to be open to a beauty he already knows. I agree that it is something, it is more than most of us can see, but that in no way leads me to conclude that the film is about the discovery of ordinary beauty. There can be no discovery of what is already known. He is not truly open to discovering beauty. Beauty, for him, can only appear on condition of reaffirming the schedule, nothing more. Not even when his niece comes to visit him do we see a change in his methodical routine. The little beauties are still there, the same.

In the few moments in which Hirayama sees beauty, his deep loneliness is further revealed. His interactions with others are almost non-existent, marked by silence and repetition: he always eats in the same place, the same dish, the same drink; He barely speaks, nor does he interact with those he encounters. Your silence is distressing. Not because he didn't utter words, but because he didn't act. This is a merely passive character.

There are few moments in which he protects himself from the violent interference of others, such as when he calls work declaring that he will not repeat the double shift or when he refuses to sell his tapes. Hirayama is content to look at other people – a mere big city look, not one capable of transforming the slightest. His speech to his niece, when asked about his relationship with his sister, is emblematic: everyone lives in a world.

The speech could have a huge transformative scope, if we thought that, from then on, it would follow something along the lines of dialogue as a fusion of horizons, as Hans-Georg Gadamer suggests. But no, the meaning given is the most ordinary: it is just an impossibility of contact, a profound solipsism. How can there be a beautiful life in solitude where there is not even dialogue with oneself?

The songs chosen were of great happiness. Right at the beginning. “The house of the rising sun” sets the tone for the film. Japan – the land of the rising sun – parallels New Orleans, the individualistic American culture that permeates the entire film. We can't ignore the sung line: “There's a house in New Orleans/ They call 'The Rising Sun'/ and it's been the ruin of many poor boys/ and, God, I know I'm one of them.”

This is what the film is about, about the ruin of poor kids in the production cycle of large cities, which leads to loneliness, individualism, a crushing routine, a lack of dialogue and reflection. The lyrics continue: “oh, mother, tell your children/ not to do what I did:/ spend their lives in sin and misery/ in the House of the Rising Sun.” My suggestion is that the film be read as a constant dialogue with this song and that Hirayama, instead of opposing the character in the song, equals her.

For me, the scene that ties the entire plot together and that most legitimizes my reading is the small meeting with the sister. Hirayama's niece ran away from home and went to spend a few days with her uncle, without it being clear why. After all, he couldn't stay: Hirayama doesn't question and isn't open to listening to the girl. He incorporates her into his routine, has small conversations with her, which, as he already said, only reinforces his closure.

When her sister, Niko's mother, comes to pick her up, she refers to her convalescing father and asks if Hirayama will visit him. Without saying a word, he denies it, hugs her and they separate. From then on, his always contained crying begins to appear uncontrollable, culminating in the closing scene – truly Oscar worthy – in which he drives with great effort to contain his emotions.

With the sister, we know what cannot be hidden by contemplative glances towards the trees. We see that Hirayama runs away from his problems with an obstinacy comparable to her everyday rigidity. He is an excessively sad man, who escapes all his relationships. Without friends, without family, Hirayama perfectly portrays what it is like to live in the largest metropolis ever seen in history and yet, or because of that, be lonely.

Perfect days exposes not the cracks of small everyday beauties, but the routine as a form of protection against the unexpected, the encounter, the other, reflection. Hirayama hides from himself everything that bothers him, everything that could endanger his perfect routine. Perfect because completely made; perfect because it is closed to the new, stuck to more of the same – to eternal mechanical, suffocating, but reassuring repetition.

*Alex Rosa Costa is a doctoral candidate in philosophy at UFABC.


Perfect days (Perfect Days).
Japan, 2023, 123 minutes.
Director: Wim Wenders.
Screenplay: Takuma Takasaki, Wim Wenders.
Director of Photography: Franz Lustig.
Cast: Kōji Yakusho, Min Tanaka, Arisa Nakano, Tokio Emoto.

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