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Review: Perfect Days. The simple path to happiness

  • Release year: 2023
  • Director: Wim Wenders.
  • Producers: Takuma Takasaki, Wim Wenders and Koji Yanai.
  • Screenplay by: Wim Wenders and Takuma Takasaki.
  • Cinematographer: Franz Lustig.
  • Music Supervisor: Milena Fessmann.

Synopsis: a peak inside the life of a man who cleans toilets in Japan.

Shotgun Commentary:  an essay on living in the moment.

Hirayama (Koji Yakusho) looking smiling at the sky. Source: Perfect Days
(Wim Wenders, 2023). ©MASTER MIND Ltd

Review

Perfect Days follows the daily life of a man who cleans public toilets in Japan. He is often overlooked, but he finds happiness in the little, special moments that he encounters on a daily basis. This transforms a film in which very little happens, into a fascinating experience that calms your mind and cleanses your soul, if you believe in that sort of thing.

Roots and empathy

One of the themes touched upon is childhood and family. Hirayama (Koji Yakusho) is a man who lives alone. However, he has an incredibly caring disposition. You can see that in the way he takes care of his plants, and later on, of his niece, who appears without notice at his doorstep. He gives love and attention to everything around him, even if the object being cared for doesn’t care back. This leads to selfish people taking advantage of him, which would be reason for conflict in most pictures, still, Hirayama always takes the high road. He never lets bad experiences dampen his mood for too long.

The behaviour shown through the main character is inspiring to stratospheric levels. The way he emanates good vibrations, helping everyone around him without expecting anything back, is an attitude that everyone could do with more of. A frame of mind that comes mostly from his enhanced sense of empathy. He helps adults and children alike, even when he doesn’t have to. Most people cleaning toilets tell you to f*ck off and wait. He never once does that. He greets everyone who shares his space, even if they are complete strangers, even when they don’t greet back.

Life is not pink

Nevertheless, Perfect Days doesn’t portray a perfect life. Aside from Hirayama having a job that is usually regarded as one of the worst a person can have, he has other issues. His family barely talks to him, and they appear to think less of him because of his profession.

Hirayama (Koji Yakusho) and his niece riding bikes. Source: Perfect Days
(Wim Wenders, 2023). ©MASTER MIND Ltd

After learning about this, you see another side of the protagonist. You see the loneliness, the rejection and disconnection that he feels sometime. This moment gives depth to a character that would otherwise be annoying with his unwavering happiness.

While he faces other problems, he follows the principle of being present to a T, an idea that is textually mentioned in the film with the phrases “Next time is next time. Now is now.”, and which helps him through a lot of bad situations.

Feeling is living

The feature is a video essay on being present in body and mind during every single minute of our lives. Hirayama appreciates everything that forms his life: the people, the food, the light coming through the trees, his plants, the tasks that form his job, his music collection, his books… Everything together makes him who he is, so he values and respects its existence and meaning. He thanks the trees and smiles every day when he looks at the sky after getting out of his house. He enjoys every minute.

This is strongly correlated with his lack of technological knowledge. He barely uses his phone and knows nothing about Spotify, therefore it can be concluded that he knows nothing of social media or other time-consuming electronic distractions. Time can be enjoyed more thoroughly when you are focused on what you are feeling and thinking during every moment, without a gadget demanding your constant attention.

Hirayama closing his eyes. Source: Perfect Days (Wim Wenders, 2023).
©MASTER MIND Ltd

The reason for his cheerfulness and satisfaction with his life could be along the same line. In a world where it’s always more, more, more and higher higher higher, the lack of social media and other external, impersonal influences doesn’t affect you. He doesn’t spend his time being convinced that he needs a bunch of products that he has never even heard of, so he can really tell what is necessary and when. This makes him capable of recognising the happy, fulfilling life that he has, and of cherishing it for the futile thing that it is.

The beauty of life

This joy he feels when he interacts with people and nature is Komorebi, also translated as the light that filters through the leaves of the trees. The movie, in case you didn’t make the connection, shows him repeatedly taking pictures of komorebi during his lunch breaks at the park.

Throughout the film, the use of lights and shadows is a poem of its own. The colours blend into the feelings, personalities and moods of the characters as well as highlight nature and its influence in Hirayama’s life.

The heart of Perfect Days

As for Hirayama, Yakusho is excellent in this role. The last scene is absolute gorgeous, very intense and perfectly executed. The mixture of feelings that he shows might be a bit confusing, since it leaves open for interpretation what he might be feeling. This lack of explanation or clear ending is fantastic since, however you interpret it, will tell you more about yourself than about the character. It is a delightful ending for a heart-warming feature that gives a lot more than the time it takes.

Advice to take from this movie:

  • Stop. Breathe. Think. Now keep going.
  • Stay away from your phone as much as possible, look around you, smell the air, feel the wind and the sun, touch, taste.
  • Your job is not who you are, and it certainly doesn’t determine your happiness.
Hirayama and his niece looking at a tree. Source: Perfect Days (Wim Wenders, 2023). ©MASTER MIND Ltd

What’s your take? Have you watched Perfect Days? What do you think of Hirayama’s way of life? Don’t hesitate to let me know your thoughts in the comments section below, or leave a message in my contact page! For more reviews and cinema-related articles, check out the rest of my blog! 😀

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