Perfect days

Image: Disclosure


Commentary on Wim Wenders' film, showing in cinemas

Why are the days perfect? Because Hirayama, the character that Wim Wenders created for Perfect days, do you almost always wake up in a good mood, and look at the sky smiling? In part, yes. But more than observing time, this look is charged with a connection with a touching transcendent state of mind. It's incredible how this scene, which will be repeated, like so many others, is fundamental to expressing what the film was about.

And in this sense, it doesn't matter what Hirayama's daily life consists of. There has been a lot of talk among commentators about the work of this man, a mature person who meticulously cleans public bathrooms in Tokyo. It is clear that privileging a banal, minor, socially despised activity helps to highlight the counterpoint between the daily routine and the preservation of a state of quiet and peace, which the character almost always carries.

The days follow each other. The sequence of Hirayama's activities is repeated as is. No use of any cinematic resource that could suggest repetition; They are all designed the same, and with the same duration. Each of us certainly gives it a different meaning. For me personally, it served, above all, to critically savor this man's little world.

He wakes up, folds the tatami mats, piles them in a corner of the large room, the walls lined with books and cassette tapes. He sits in front of a small table with many potted plants and waters them, with the delicacy of someone taking care of friends. It is the starting point for observing nature, full of reverence and enchantment, during Hirayama's journey, and through which the narrative will expose expressive situations in his life.

Leave the house, can in hand, for breakfast. He then goes to work cleaning, super meticulously, in Tokyo's public bathrooms. The diverse, beautiful architecture of the spaces and the modernity of the crockery draw attention. Cleaning takes place amidst users coming and going, showing different human types, in such a peculiar situation in life. The scenes awaken the first discreet smiles among spectators.

The lunch break, a brief snack in a square, lonely in the first few days, points to neighbors who are also lonely, a homeless man and a young woman, but who greet each other with a look. Afterwards, Hirayama takes out an analogue camera and aims at the top of a tree. He will always repeat the same take.

The end of the day is marked by a collective bath in public bathrooms, in a way that provokes admiration among us Westerners, but complemented by those fantastic hydromassage bathtubs.

At night, the most complete meal takes place in a simple, noisy restaurant in a passageway, but with welcoming owners.

Back at home, Hirayama unfolds the mats and reads under the light of a lamp. Again, for us Westerners, accustomed to headboards full of pillows, the impression of discomfort is strange. How is it possible to read like that? However, it is understandable: it is easier to leave the book on the floor, stay in the right position to look at the sky, the tree, outside, and enter into a state of almost somnambulism. Fall sleep.

The artifices of communication

When the repetition of scenes begins to cause a certain discomfort, and the feeling that, after all, the days can be more boring than perfect, Wim Wenders introduces small new features into this daily life, which makes it unique. It is curious how discreet and gradual this intrusion is. And, little by little, he captivates viewers to actually agree with him and think that these days are perfect.

First, the great idea of ​​communicating with an anonymous visitor to one of the bathrooms, who hides the paper with a tic-tac-toe game behind the dishes. We can assume some alternatives: either the cleaner finds the paper and puts it in the trash, or he accepts it and joins in the fun. What attitude is expected from our character?

It is also necessary to consider the presence of the crazy young work partner, who does not understand Hirayama's rigor. But the main tone, in these scenes, comes from the young man's girlfriend, an eccentric blonde from Generation Z, who discovers the cassette tapes in her boss's well-equipped car. It provides one of the film's beautiful scenes, a close-up of the girl's face, listening to Patti Smith.

And at this point, we consider one of the striking aspects of this work by Wim Wenders: the opposition between different forms of communication.

In the first part, silence dominates. Our character essentially communicates with his gaze, with gestures. This way he moves around the city, interacts with others. How can we not remember M. Hulot, by Jacques Tati, in his attacks on Paris in the 1950s? It is clear that master Tati's comic streak was strong, but what was sometimes at stake were the novelties of the new times: spaces without divisions (“It's modern, tout communique!”), electronic gates in garages… Doesn’t the girl who discovers the cassette tape have a similar impact, or Hirayama’s niece who, amusingly, compares it to her uncle’s analogue camera with her iPhone? And in this case, as it was also a strong expression of affection between them, how beautiful is the realization that Niko kept the old camera that he had received as a gift from Hirayama as a child...

This kinship relationship was covered in a very extended way, and it is with this that the character's verbal expression phase culminates, including the troubled relationships with his family, through his sister, Niko's mother.

The transition from the non-verbal phase to the verbal phase occurs around the middle of the film, a moment in which Hirayama's routine change is marked by weekends, by replacing work time with leisure time. This time includes a visit to the temple, the bookstore, and the store where you buy and develop your films, in black and white.

In the photographs analyzed, at home, and rigorously packaged, the tree that is always recorded in the square, at lunchtime, stands out. What is Narayama looking for, comparing them? The change of seasons expressed in it, the passage of time? The fact is that they serve as a motto to configure the beautiful shadow images, in black and white, that dance in your head, full of everyday stories, full of memory, and that mark your state of somnambulism, before falling asleep.

The first word, if not the one that appears so expressive as primordial, takes place in Mama's bar, and is addressed to this fifty-something Japanese woman, who welcomes some “regulars” for dinner. We intuit the loving connection between her and Hirayama, not only because it is the first dialogue, but because of the atmosphere and the sign of another jealous regular. It is an old “affair” of Mama’s that Hirayama will play at the end of the film, in a beautiful scene, in which friendship, compassion and a childish spirit will set the tone.

Still in Mama's bar, a moment of pure lyricism. She sings a version, in Japanese, of “The house of the rising sun", of The Animals, which, in English, opened the film. And we leave here with one last observation. Hirayama, on his travels around Tokyo, always chooses one of his cassette tapes for background music. Lucky for us, we savor the soundtrack that ties the film together, while the stunning views of modern Tokyo stroll before us.

It is worth remembering that the future, as if promising new directions for Mr. Hirayama's daily life, evokes in him an open smile, moistened by tears, as he drives, in the final scene. This time, his face is not turned towards the sky, but looks, eye to eye, at the camera, that is, at all of us. To the sound of which song? I swear I felt it, and I got it right: “feeling good”, by Nina Simone. If it's a cliché, commonplace, it could be. But it fit like a glove.

*Solange Peirão, historian, is director of Solar Pesquisas de História.


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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