Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Perfect Days: Even a Japanese Toilet Cleaner Got the Blues

 By José Alberto Hermosillo 

“Perfect Days” is a chant to the working class where simplicity is one of the greatest gifts a human can have.

Veteran German filmmaker Wim Wenders merges the Eastern and Western cultures in a compelling, multi-layered, observational drama of intrinsic beauty.

Set in Tokyo, the Japanese German co-production unveils and underlines a cohesive social narrative with moral values that reach universality, such as honesty, self-respect, self-discipline, and self-love.

“Perfect Days” inquires about the ideological topics of self-preservation in a society where, in some cases, individualism leads to isolation and loneliness. Still, those self-made situations are not an obstacle for someone to have perfect days and be happy with small incentives.

What would be the perfect day for a toilet cleaner in Tokyo or any other city in the world? To have lunch sitting on a bench contemplating with passion the spilling of the sunlight through the branches and leaves of the trees, snapping a shot with a film camera to preserve the natural beauty of his environment. Those are invaluable moments that last forever.

Younger people usually interact with Hirayama in the same way. They do not distance themselves or treat him with excessive respect as other countries do because of his age. They look at him as one of their own. The generational gap is the same, as they also wonder about the outdated gadgets the man possesses and reproduced. They know he has the knowledge to bring happiness and, at the same time, give them instant emotional satisfaction with American music.

Hirayama is a unique character, different from his wealthy sister or his curious, runaway niece. He enjoys a simple life and likes to meticulously read William Faulkner’s Modern and Gothic American literature and Patricia Highsmith’s novels every day.
“Perfect Days” is a character-driven film that explores Hirayama’s dreams and memories more linearly and artistically, like a trip to the Meta-verse. Wender’s wife, Donata, created those recurring images of his dreams.
On his way to work, he enjoys listening to American music on a cassette player. Themes as “The House of the Rising Sun” by The Animals, “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison, “Perfect Day” by Low Reed, and “Feeling Good” by Nina Simone made the “Perfect Days” soundtrack unforgettable, and valuable for the curious young Japanese generation.

Veteran Japanese actor Kōji Yakusho skillfully and elegantly plays Hirayama, a role that earned him the Best Actor award at Cannes 2023. We remember him from 1996, in the original film “Shall We Dance?” Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez made the American version more commercial. He also had an immense participation in “Babel” and in other iconic films such as “Cure” and “13 Assassins.”
Wenders recently released another extraordinary documentary, “Anselm,” which is about the work of the German iconoclast Anselm Kiefer. Win Wenders is a well-known director since his evocative works “Win of Desire” and “Faraway, So Close!” in Germany, where he also made “Pina,” a documentary that pays tribute to the German Choreographer Pina Bauch, and “The Salt on Earth,” another marvelous documentary on the work of world-renown photographer Sebastiâo Salgado. He also led other independent and transcendental features such as “Paris Texas” and “Don’t Come Knocking in the United States.
Other contemporary and memorable films addressing the working-class subject are Ken Loach’s Palme d’Or winner “I, Daniel Blake” and Pablo Larrain’s “Tony Manero” from Chile. Gabriela Pichler's “Eat Sleep Die” from Sweden.
With “Perfect Days,” Japan reached its fifteenth Oscar nominations with two wins. The first Oscar went to “Departures in 2008, and the second win was with “Drive My Car” in 2021.
The Japanese entry for Best International Feature Film at the 96th Academy Awards, “Perfect Days” portrays the city of Tokyo as another character with towns or districts where people get together to eat in a nearby Market, buy music in an antique record store, bathe in a public sauna, or go out to a bar for dinner. 
Tokyo’s urban landscape is intriguing, as we see the highways, buildings, and especially the active broadcasting facility of Tokyo’s Skytree Tower, shown in the film a few times as a cardinal symbol of the city’s skyline.
We must remember that no job is degrading or demeaning, and Japanese people know that. You can be a toilet cleaner, a table cleaner, or flip burgers in a restaurant anywhere in the world. As long as you can do it with dignity and respect, you can find satisfaction as an ultimate goal by doing plenty of other activities that bring you happiness outside of your working schedule.
The people of Tokyo must be proud of the cleanliness of their city, especially the toilets because dedicated and professional people like the endearing character of Hirayama take care of them. 
Have you ever wondered if a Tokyo toilet cleaner can have a perfect day? The answer is yes. Even a hard-working toilet cleaner can have his “Perfect Days” in an automated city with individuals who follow a fast-paced lifestyle. 
“Perfect Days” reaches universality by appealing to all workers who do their jobs with dignity and self-respect and enjoy the little things that make their lives happier.

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