Perfect Days: The Praise of Life and the Everyday by Wim Wenders

Nearly four decades later, the German director returns to Tokyo with an absolutely wonderful, beautiful, evocative, and also necessary fiction, co-written with screenwriter Takuma Takasaki.

“Perfect Days” is, in turn, a tribute to his declared mentor, the immense Yasujiro Ozu, considered one of the most important figures in the history of Japanese cinema. His films, including “Tokyo Story” (1953), “Early Summer” (1951), and “Late Spring” (1949), stand out for their unique visual style, love for details, and the ability to delve into the feelings and emotions of characters, as well as their family relationships.

“To shoot a film in Tokyo without thinking of Ozu is impossible.” Wim Wenders

A praise of simplicity and routines

The protagonist of “Perfect Days” is a public restroom cleaner in Tokyo, superbly portrayed by Kôji Yakusho – winner of the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival. He is a lover of his routines and an enthusiast of life, whether it appears aesthetic or seemingly attractive.

His attitude reveals a man in perfect balance between his work and hobbies, without veering into the false positivity often found in self-help programs and books. Primarily, this is because his approach is sincere and unforced, grounded in the acceptance of reality and an extremely sensitive appreciation for what it means to be alive.

“This is a simple story that praises the routines of a solitary and quiet man, living a frugal yet happy life, fully embracing the everyday and the little things in life.”

Stoicism and Sensitivity

Hirayama seems to have found inner balance through a lifestyle devoid of extravagance, wealth, and superficialities, where the small details around him mean everything, and where FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) is nonexistent.

He lives his life, making the most of the cards he’s dealt, with stoicism and passion. That’s why we don’t see a person frustrated and embittered by having to do a not-so-pleasant job, but quite the opposite. He chooses to focus on the “bright side of things”.

In everything he does, he does it consciously, and even though there’s a lot of routine in his life, he doesn’t act like a robot going through the motions unaware. Instead, he acts as a person who fully engages in every small activity he undertakes.

Some of these repetitive activities include: grooming his mustache, cleaning and organizing the house, watering the plants, dressing in the same way, having the same coffee at the same time…

And also, driving the van while listening to one of his old cassette tapes on the way to work, taking an analog photo daily of the treetops while eating a sandwich in the same seat at the same park he visits every day, bathing following the same patterns in public baths, eating at the same restaurant, or reading at the same hour, etc.

“Hirayama lives almost within a meditation, where the same actions repeat every day.”

Whatever he does, Hirayama smiles and expresses gratitude constantly; he neither seeks to conform nor escape, nor does he take refuge in complaint. Instead, he remains steadfast and stable in the face of unexpected changes and adversity.

An invitation to think about our concept of happiness

As you will discover, “Perfect Days”—Japan’s nominee for the Academy Award for Best International Feature Film—is a simple story that praises the routines of a solitary, reserved man who lives frugally but happily. He wholeheartedly devotes himself to work and any activity life presents.

In fact, as the film progresses, we will inevitably be infected by Hirayama‘s vitalistic attitude, reminding us that the essence of life and our own happiness lies not in possessing things or occupying a professionally “well-regarded” position by all standards.

The meaning of life resides within us, in our ability to accept ourselves, love ourselves for who we are, not for what we do or what others think of us. It also involves managing our circumstances, both emotionally and operationally, in the best possible way, focusing on what we have to extract the maximum value.

“Wenders teaches us the importance of living in the present moment and appreciating the simpler things in our day-to-day lives.”

Furthermore, the director plays with the film’s title to show us that perfect days don’t exist and that viewing happiness as something idyllic and flawless distances us from it. This is especially true because all we have is the here and now, and the only real opportunity to be happy is in this precise moment.

Therefore, “Perfect Days” also serves as a wake-up call, reminding us that in the small, seemingly mundane daily acts, there is light and joy, and that in routine – if we look closely – surprises always find their way in.

The common good above all else: Throughout the entire film, Wenders portrays the deeply rooted mindset in Japanese culture of duty and service to the community, which takes precedence over individual needs.

For this reason, the protagonist, who works cleaning public restrooms in the city of Tokyo, finds happiness in giving his all, knowing that he is serving his country and contributing to making it better for its residents to enjoy. In other words, duty and order above all.

But on the contrary, and to illustrate the mindset and actions of some of the new generations of Japanese individuals, Wenders introduces a secondary character, Hirayama‘s younger colleague, who sees work merely as a means to earn money. Hence, he fails to comprehend why Hirayama cleans with such passion when he is about to get dirty immediately afterward.

For him, work is a mere formality, and despite his precarious financial situation, he is not willing to sacrifice himself in that way, as his priority is spending time with his girlfriend.

3 revealing encounters

Despite the repetition of days, in “Perfect Days”, three revealing encounters unfold.

The first is with his niece, with whom he seems to have lost contact due to a strained relationship with her mother, his sister. Despite the discomfort of introducing a new person into his life and routines, he remains unfazed. Not only does he manage this, but he also makes his life attractive and ‘enviable’ to a teenager living in a world completely removed from her uncle’s life.

He shares beautiful moments with her, but one standout is their bike ride, where Hirayama imparts a masterful lesson:

“This time is this time, and the next time will be the next time.” Hirayama

The second encounter is with his sister, revealing the traumatic burden carried by Hirayama. She arrives in a luxury car with a chauffeur at his modest home in a humble neighborhood. Questioning his living conditions and occupation, she invites him to visit their father, who now resides in a care facility, claiming that he has changed and “is not like before”.

In response to this invitation, Hirayama remains impassive, but his watery eyes betray him, as does the emotional hug he gives his sister, hinting at the shadow of a painful past from which he likely escaped to live life on his own terms. Food for thought.

The third encounter is with the ex-husband of the cook and owner of the bar he visits every week for dinner, with whom he shares a special relationship. The man is dying and decides to visit her to ask for forgiveness. The ensuing scenes are pure gold.

In this case, we witness two sides of the same coin: one person completely defeated and without hope, awaiting death, juxtaposed with another who possesses the most valuable asset – a positive attitude. This attitude allows him to find excitement and see light in the darkest places.

Unbeatable Soundtrack

Hirayama resists the digital world that dominates us and continues to live in analog. That’s why he still listens to his old cassettes of Anglo-Saxon rock from the 60s and 70s, featuring tracks by The Animals, Patti Smith, Van Morrison, The Velvet Underground, Otis Redding, The Rolling Stones, Lou Reed, or Nina Simone.

Since we watched the movie, we’ve been listening to its soundtrack on repeat.

Praise of Shadow and Other Readings

One of Hirayama‘s routines is reading second-hand books that he buys at the same bookstore, such as “The Wild Palms” by William Faulkner or “Tree” by Aya Koda.

And although the book “In Praise of Shadows” (1933) by Junichiro Tanizaki doesn’t appear in the film, it is partly present. Especially in the essence of the protagonist and those passages composed of photographs and black-and-white images that divide the story.

In this highly recommended book, it argues that in the West, beauty has always been associated with light, brightness, and whiteness, while darkness, opacity, and blackness have had a negative connotation. However, in Japan, shadow is considered part of beauty, something that “Perfect Days” will show on numerous occasions.

A Cathartic and Hopeful Ending

As “Feeling Good” by Nina Simone plays in the background, we see a close-up of a visibly moved Hirayama while driving his van, completely in tune with the lyrics of this song. The lyrics allude to hope, new beginnings, feeling good about nature, freedom, and life.

We then understand how he has chosen to let go of burdens to live his life, focusing on the principle of reality, the present, and reveling in the beauty of the everyday. Food for thought.

We went to see it at Cine Yelmo Ideal cinema and highly recommend it.

(*) The images are frames from the movie.