German auteur Wim Wenders is just days away from celebrating his 78th birthday, and with his stunning new film 'Perfect Days', one can feel his age creeping up on him in the most charming way possible. Sometimes, he suggests, all one needs is to stop and smile at the beauty of the world around us while we still can.
Hirayama's (Koji Yakusho, 'Belle') days begin and end in Groundhog fashion; make his bed, water his plants, get a coffee, methodically complete his public toilet cleaning jobs in the heart of Tokyo, wash at the local bath house and watch the baseball at his favourite restaurant. Simply put, Hirayama appears to want for absolutely nothing – not even a companion to listen to his extensive cassette collection with. Of course, like all films about old men stuck in routines, disarray comes in the form of a slack colleague and a surprise visit from his niece, but Hirayama treats these hurdles as beautiful interventions instead of perpetual bothers.
I've seen a number of opinions circling around the idea that 'Perfect Days' is too light, too ambiguous, and doesn't offer Hirayama any interiority. This, I disagree, is exactly where the film's charms lie; we don't need to know the circumstances around Hirayama's solitary existence, even when clues about his past pepper their way through the third act. There also doesn't need to be a huge underlying lesson either, and to get caught up in such things is antithetical to 'Perfect Days' on the whole. Why can't a film simply revel in the act of being alive? Its rhythm is so beautiful and hypnotic that I personally would've been perfectly content to watch Hirayama's days play almost identically for the entire 123-minute runtime. It helps, too, that despite essentially playing Hirayama as a mute, Yakusho's performance is a force of nature – he even took home the Best Actor award at this year's Cannes Film Festival.
Why can't a film simply revel in the act of being alive? Its rhythm is so beautiful and hypnotic that I personally would've been perfectly content to watch Hirayama's days play almost identically for the entire 123-minute runtime.
Cinematographer Franz Lustig's ('Anselm', also directed by Wenders and playing at MIFF) task to make the everyday look beautiful sounds like a lofty one, but it helps that the landscapes of Tokyo and the toilets Hirayama cleans for work are so striking to begin with. Among one of the most visually delightful moments is, of all things, Hirayama cleaning public toilets at a children's playground, whose transparent walls turn opaque when their door is locked. Shot in a 4:3 aspect ratio, Hirayama's life doesn't feel like it's being contained by the small frame; rather, the camera's focus is manipulated to capture the textures of the world around him, giving them far more life than a letterbox presentation could dream of. It's the cinematic equivalent of closing your eyes in a public garden and letting the sounds of nature drown out the busy thoughts that so often take us away from appreciating the beauty of life.
There is one session of 'Perfect Days' left to play at the Melbourne International Film Festival this year, and I cannot think of a more wonderful film to close the festival off with. Don't be surprised if you walk out of the theatre the way Hirayama leaves his apartment; smiling, staring at the sky, and full of peace.