Koji Yakusho (Memoirs of a Geisha, Babylon), Tokyo Emoto, Aoi Yamada, Arisa Nakano, Min Tanaka
|Master Mind, Wenders Images
|2 hours 3 minutes
German maestro Wim Wenders, the director of the cult art-romance The Sky Over Berlin, this time searches for the meaning of life on the streets of Tokyo, in the midst of calm routine and silent joy in the existential poetry of Perfect Days. The film won the Best Actor award at Cannes (Koji Yakuso) and was nominated for an Oscar in the foreign language category.
The protagonist of Hirayama’s film Perfect Days is an old, lonely man who works as a cleaner of public toilets. Every day, he wakes up before dawn, brushes his teeth, shaves, and gets behind the wheel of an old car to spend hours washing and polishing what will be contaminated with human excrement the next day. But the next day, Hirayama will come back to clean everything to a shine… He is tactful and polite. Every time he comes out, he waits humbly for someone to get stuck in a stall while he’s cleaning it. Perhaps he is a perfectionist. Maybe he’s a weirdo. But in reality, the hero does not do anything beyond his norm and his duty. He just does his best, as it should be.
In addition to his work, Hirayama has hobbies: He reads books (complex and intelligent, like William Faulkner’s novels), listens to music (mostly classic British rock from the 60s and 70s, and on audio cassettes), grows plants at home (which he digs up from parks or even roadsides if they sprouted by accident from a stray seed), takes pictures of tree leaves against the blue sky, and then even pays for the development and printing of those strange monotonous pictures.
In fact, everyday monotony (even in night dreams) is exactly what Wenders celebrates, and with no less passion than other artists celebrate exceptionality and singularity. It would seem that every day the leaves of the same tree against the same sky look exactly the same, and the photographs look the same, so they seem to have no meaning. It would seem that Hirayama translates photographic paper in the same way that those he cleans up after every day translate toilet paper. And usually, of course, we don’t see any beauty in the way we translate elementary everyday objects every minute: food, napkins, soap in public restrooms… But the great artist Wim Wenders, who has long since passed the stage of looking for beauty in the beautiful, now, having reached the level of a real magician, snatches the beauty from the most mundane, prosaic things.
There is no plot in which something happens to the main character. That is, something “happens” that somehow changes, redirects, and turns his ordinary, unremarkable, established, and conventional life upside down. This is not Wachowski, not Jupiter Ascending, where a poor toilet cleaner, like Cinderella, one day finds out that her true destiny and purpose are much higher and more majestic than cleaning toilets, because she is so special and chosen that she is the pivotal ruler of not only the entire planet but the entire solar system… No, Hirayama does not go to the ball. He remains a public restroom cleaner.
Only he is not unhappy. He’s quite happy, like Sisyphus in the philosophical essay by Albert Camus, one of the greatest absurdist existentialists in history. In fact, we can say that Wim Wenders made a perfect adaptation of Camus’s book The Myth of Sisyphus, where the French writer, reflecting on the absurdity that is human existence and the cycle of repetitive actions and events, and about suicide as a way out of the absurdity, nevertheless comes to the conclusion that Sisyphus, who seems to be rolling a heavy stone up the mountain in vain and absolutely meaningless fashion, which is bound to roll back down each time, should still be considered happy because he is the one who rolls the stone, he reaches the top again and again, and each time he feels comfort and joy from having rolled it.
And Hirayama’s inner world is always “the home of the rising sun,” as in the iconic song by The Animals, which he loves so much. After all, even a gloomy and rainy day, even the darkest day of all (when all the shadows overlap) can seem… “perfect” if you don’t fight, but accept the absurdity of existence.