The new film from Wim Wenders makes the audience ponder the question, “how content can we be with a solitary lifestyle?”Perfect Days lulls you into a false sense of comfort by presenting itself as a slice of life then quickly makes you come to terms with loneliness and achieving contentment in the choices you make in your life.
It follows the daily life of a janitor, played by Komi Yakusho, cleaning public toilets in Tokyo and enjoying moments of solace and tranquility. The repetition of his routine at the beginning of the film, which almost lets your attention drift, comes across as purposeful before the film comes into its own, clarifying its sentiment. Although Yakusho’s character is a man of few words, the audience is able to feel his pain and happiness through the incredible skill and artistry of the portrayal.
The weight of being on screen for almost the entirety of Perfect Days seems to have left the seasoned actor unphased. His portrayal did not dwindle for a second,,leaving the audience touched and contemplative. The character chooses a life of mundanity and simplicity but is completely content with his life of service. His happiness comes from rituals and people-watching and is best depicted in the scenes of him photographing sunlight through a canopy of leaves. The concept of komorebi, which is the play of sunlight through leaves, is pivotal to the storyline and understanding of the main character. The spiritual connotation of the word is derived from the peace and tranquility one receives from watching the sunlight dance. It is about learning to weave your passions into daily life and looking for the light in times of darkness.
Although Perfect Days depicts the janitor’s contentment with his solitary lifestyle, his interactions with other characters remind us that humans are social beings. The joy he gets from sharing his interests and routine with his niece and how ecstatic he feels when someone takes an interest in his music is heartwarming to watch.
Wenders’ experience as a photographer is clear from the attention given to each frame. Perfect Days is beautifully shot, achieving a sense of peace and evoking emotion throughout. The film, which revolves around the public toilets in Shibuya, also came to fruition because of them. Public toilets in 17 locations were redesigned by 16 different designers, invited from around the world, as step to achieving a society that embraces diversity and change. Although Japan is considered one of the cleanest countries in the world, there is a stereotype within the Japanese that public toilets are dirty, dark and smelly. The project was initiated to dispel this myth; for example, a toilet named ‘A Walk in The Woods’ designed by Kengo Kuma, which is featured in the film, was meant to integrate the surrounding park and simulate the experience of a refreshing walk through a forest. Kuma wanted to “dispel the conventional image of public toilets.” Wenders was invited to view the toilets and be inspired to take photos or create projects. The public works project, the redesigning of public toilets in Tokyo, which did not get the attention the creators sought, was given its moment in the spotlight in Perfect Days and served as the perfect instrument for this story.
Perfect Days is in UK cinemas on 9th February 2024.
Edited by Martha Knox, Co-Film & TV Editor