Perfect Days begins and throughout its runtime follows the apparent content life of Hirayama, a toilet cleaner whose structured life allows him to dabble in his passion of books and music, as well as taking photos of trees and capturing them for posterity, visions of those photos edging slowly to him in his dreams. As the movie progresses, encounters related to his past emerge, revealing more about the character.

The cynic in me can’t help but look at Perfect Days as a form of romanticisation of the blue-collar work, by a filmmaker trying to express this attraction to an audience who cares – the dedicated audience of arthouse for whom “nothing is precisely happening” is the exact amount of momentary feeling of discovery in the film. Mundanity becomes romantic, existence becomes almost zen-like.

But then again this is a movie where The Animals’ rendition of “The House of the Rising Sun” plays the line “My mother was a tailor. She sewed my new blue jeans” and it plays over the moment where Hirayama in his bright blue overalls gets ready for the non-glamorous work of toilet cleaning. In that moment, it can be realised that cynicism can simultaneously exist along with love for a movie whose taste is basic, whose sentimentality is up on its sleeve, rather than hidden beneath a sheen of cool.

The repetition, thus transforms into almost a record of posterity, as well as a picture postcard of Japan, especially with its beautiful toilets. But the monotony never feels oppressive because Hakusho as Hirayama never feels enveloped by it. There is a happiness in him, almost as if he revels in the routine, in love with his cassettes to such an extent that he is loathe to sell them off. The camera and as a consequence his love for the analog, makes him look like a dinosaur in the digital age, but he is unbothered, content to clean the toilets and ride his blue van through the metropolis of Tokyo, where the old and new meet and juxtapose, intermingle.

It is only when his niece comes to his home out of the blue, that the carefully constructed nature of the routine slowly starts to unravel. Here is also where the film begins to delve into foregone narrative territory, with a backstory and emotional resonance. Thankfully Wenders’ light-footed nature applies in the formation of these backstories as well, whereby his clear lack of showing overt emotionality pays off in dividends in the rare moment where he allows Hakusho’s character to lean in for a hug, his eyes welling and him breaking down. Dominoes start to fall as the dam of emotions slowly burst, though the burst too feels like a trickle.

The cynic in me might think that the construction of the movie only ensures that the emotional conflicts come towards the backend of the film. But again this could also be read as Hirayama’s life becoming unstructured, while the invisible narrative follows a structure.

But again, as Nina Simone sings – “It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life. and I feel good”. Every day he wakes up, after witnessing flashes of monochromatic dreams resembling the photographs taken from his old Yashica, life begins anew and while physically he restarts himself, mentally he could only restart once the beauty of that drive in the city begins, the sun streaks in through the window, and the song washes the grief of life away. For a brief moment he is reckoning with the past and his own existence, before the zen like moment begins. It’s almost a form of atonement, for not accepting and enjoying life with all its little amount of pleasures.

Is it good or bad? Wenders thinks it is something profound. I am just glad that at the tail end of his career, the octogenarian director through the lens of his experience, could surmise a simple statement – life is still beautiful even beyond the cynicism and hardships. And honestly, that is enough to forgive the romanticism of the minimum wage job.


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