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Film: Perfect Days
Cast: Koji Yakusho, Arisa Nakano, Aoi Yamada, Tokio Emoto, Yumi Asou, Sayuri Ishikawa, Tomokazu Miura, Min Tanaka
Director: Wim Wenders
Rating: 4/5
Runtime: 125 min.

German-born director 78 year old Wim Wenders, draws inspiration from life in Japan, in this his latest cinematic offering. In “Perfect Days,” Wenders looks to the orderly, austere, yet culturally rich life of an older Tokyo resident.

Through his lead character Hirayama (played by Koji Yakusho), he exposes us to the beauty of everyday life. A mild-mannered trim man with salt and pepper hair, Hirayama is content with his simple regulated life as a sanitation worker (cleaner of high-end public toilets in the fashionable Shibuya district of Tokyo) and outside of that he enjoys a passion for music, books, nature and photography. He gets up every morning in his modest apartment and drives a van to his workplace, playing his curated cassette collection. He wakes up early, puts his room to order, watches the sun come up and prepares to head to his work place with a minimal economy. He drives his car and enjoys songs that include “The House of the Rising Sun;” by The Animals, “Pale Blue Eyes” by The Velvet Underground, and “Sunny Afternoon,” by The Kinks. Lou Reed, The Rolling Stones, Otis Redding, Nina Simone also get a hearing. Hirayama glories in being mindful of every moment in his life. We only get to learn more about his past through a series of unexpected encounters.

Wenders makes the entire exercise one of artful beauty. Hirayama’s world including the parks in which the designer toilets are situated, and a dark little bar-restaurant look pristine and beautiful. Even his halting communion with the female proprietor Mama (Sayuri Ishikawa) of the restaurant, comes across in empathetic fashion. Come nighttime, Hirayama reads and dreams in Black &White – sequences imagined in collaboration with Wenders’ wife Donata, a well-known photographer. It’s routine and some may say nothing much happens. Yet the sequences here converge into a deeply reflective portrait of a life well-lived in harmony with nature.

Acceptance is the key here. For the audience it is acceptance of Hirayama’s way of life and for Hirayama it’s acceptance of his place in the hierarchies of the workplace. The public facilities he works in are distinctive and could pass off as a shrine. The underlying theme here is ‘Work is worship’ and comes through quite evocatively given that backdrop. Hirayama is not complacent. You will definitely be moved by the hard-fought serenity he brings to his life and work.

Of course there’s some mystery behind Hirayama’s infinite patience while dealing with his teenage niece Niko(Arisa Nakano), and a brash colleague, Takashi (Tokio Emoto). It’s only when Hirayama’s estranged sister Keiko (Yumi Aso) shows up to claim her daughter, that we get an inkling of a somewhat turbulent past. Is Hirayama’s current life a way of making amends for that past?

It’s been four decades after ‘Tokyo-Ga’ his documentary on Ozu and Wenders return to the Japanese capital is a reason to celebrate.This is one of his best narrative features and is richly aesthetic and brilliantly vivid in it’s delicate character study. The camerawork aids in shedding light on the lead character’s every move through a shimmering array of light and shadows. Crafted with utmost care and empathy, the deceptively simple narrative builds up on details of everyday existence that accumulate into a strongly affecting emotional wallop. This is a beguiling experience made richer by the remarkable contributions of its ace tech team. You need to see it to really experience this masterly veneration of Japanese Philosophy and culture.



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