From Japan comes “Perfect Days” which was nominated for Best International Feature Film
at the 96th Academy Awards. The perfect opening of the film, “Perfect Days” is approaching. It takes place on Wednesday, February 7th in LA and NY and Chicago, and then expanding on Friday, February 16th at AMC Century City. You are in for a treat. Wim Wenders, who directed the film, also co-wrote the script with Takuma Takasaki. This film is beautiful, sensitive, and kind – a clear contrast to today’s stresses. It is simple and serene but within a calm exterior lies a hidden story that slowly unfolds. It. Is deeply moving, a masterfully poetic character study, that stars legendary Japanese actor Koji Yakusho (Shall We Dance), who won Best Actor in Cannes.
We first meet Hirayama who is the core of the story and our hero as he awakens, a new day. He goes through a typical morning ritual, the toilet routine, brushing his teeth, his hair, dressing, gathering his keys readying himself to head for work, but wait- he needs to water his large collection of flowers filing his counter. As he steps out of his car he looks lovingly at the large trees nearby. He stars his car and drives to work listening to cassette tapes in the car with English lyrics. As advertised on his shirt, he cleans toilets. Very unlike an individual with a comparable job in our country, Hirayama takes great pride in cleaning these toilets that are, in Japan, small sanctuaries of peace and dignity. The toilets are in a public park, available for use as people who pass by, require.
His life is ordered. Up, dress, work, a sandwich for lunch in the park, taking a photo of the trees he sees, dinner in a local diner, a stop to purchase a paperback book for a dollar, cleaning his body and relaxing in the communal bath, home to bed and to read by a nearby lamp sleeping on the floor. Initially, the book is by William Faulkner. A new day and his assistant, Tokio Emoto as Takashi takes no pride in his work; coming late, talking on his phone while cleaning, leaving early and not showing up, and finally quitting.
With Tokyo in the background, he is sustained by his love of his work and this awe of the world around him. Then, things happen that interrupt his safe, well-ordered life. First an incident with his assistant and the assistant’s girl-friend. And then, Niko, Hirayama’s niece, shows up by surprise. She’s run away from his wealthy estranged sister Keiko’s home. He lets her accompany him on his next two days of routine, and she even helps him clean at work. Eventually, Hirayama calls Keiko, who comes to collect Niko in the evening. She can’t believe he is a toilet cleaner and asks him to visit their father, who is failing, but he refuses. Some of the loveliest parts of the film include the niece coming to work and helping him and joint bike rides around the city. They talk and we learn about his earlier life.
Sharing some of the events that led to this full -length film, Wenders explained that he was initially asked to do four short films, essentially four days in the life of a toilet cleaner in Japan. He preferred a full -length film. The timing and length of time to create this film were critical.
“But I didn’t like the idea of a series of short films. That is not my language. Instead of shooting 4 times 4 days, I answered, why wouldn’t we shoot a real film in these 17 days. What can you do with 4 short films, anyway. Imagine you had a long feature film instead! The answer was: we love your idea! But can it be done? I wrote back: Yes! If we reduce our story to fewer locations and to one leading part.” “I saw these places, all of them located in Shibuya that I love. These toilets were too beautiful to be true. But they weren’t what this film was going to be about. This could only become a movie if we managed to create a unique caretaker, a truly believable, real character. His story alone would matter, and only if his life was worth watching, he could carry the film, and those places, and all the ideas attached to them, like the acute sense of “the common good” in Japan, the mutual respect for “the city” and “each other” that make public life in Japan so different to our world. I couldn’t possibly write this on my own. But I had a great sparring partner and co-writer in Takuma Takasaki.” And “It seemed wrong to conceive of a “score” for this simple everyday life. But as Hirayama listens to his cassettes of music from the sixties through to the eighties mostly, his musical taste gave us a soundtrack of his life, from the Velvet Underground, Otis Redding, Patti Smith, the Kinks or Lou Reed to others, also to Japanese music from that period.”
The result is a beautifully filmed, engaging, spiritual, satisfying and hopeful film. Now, go see it.