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MOVIES: Perfect Days – Review

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Perfect Days is a love letter to the ordinary, solitude and the working class. There’s no big event – there’s no big plot, hell – the description of this film alone would put people off: you follow an elderly man Hirayama on his routine cleaning toilets throughout the day. But little events threaten throw his routine off course: the arrival of his niece, and his colleague’s obsession with a love-interest. In the hands of Wim Wenders; who gave us Anselm earlier this year in the UK, this celebration of the common folk becomes something special: an artform, thanks to the talented performance of Koji Yakusho.

We get to see what Hirayama’s routine looks like when he’s at work and not at work – his passion for music and books outside of work dominate his day to day life; and we get to see the people who wonder in and out. The music plays a big part of Perfect Days, as an escape; as a way to vent out your emotion – Patti Smith and Lou Reed both dominate the soundtrack, with a love letter to cassette players and music collections. There’s a generation gap between Hirayama and pretty much everyone; his current colleague, who isn’t as committed, friendly, and begs him for money so he can spend time with a girl who he’s pining after. His niece too – is a child of iPods and Spotify, yet Hirayama asks her where Spotify is as though it’s a physical place in Tokyo that he can go and visit. Because that is all that Hirayama does – and there is nothing wrong with that. There are hints at his past; his confrontation with his sister suggests a history – she’s visibly disgusted to learn that he cleans toilets now; but Perfect Days’ celebration of a life spent doing just that shows there can be something of pride found in even the most common jobs. This film does for toilet cleaning what Paterson did for bus driving.

The details of a daily life are told with simplicity that most films strive for but few dare to achieve. We get to see the interior of Hirayama’s flat – his work environment, the people he encounters on his job, one by one – and the cycle restarts again; asking the question: is he happy with this life he’s chosen? Is he content? He certainly has dreams, aspirations – the shots skyward of Tokyo and his life spent cycling through the urban sprawl suggest that. But Perfect Days is at the end of the day, a celebration of a job and a life lived without shame: there are interpretations that you can read into him being gay if you want to do add even more depth to the film – and it’s easy to see that he has frustrations with the past.

The visual language at the heart of Perfect Days is key to unpacking the film’s simplicity and its subplots are simple and myriad enough to be interesting despite – or perhaps because of, the relative mundane lifestyle of them all. Next time is next time but right now is right now – nothing quite beats the perfect atmosphere of a commute set to a perfect song; a perfect day – and Wim Wenders’ routine of a silent life well lived sets out not to condemn or to judge, but instead to celebrate.

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