“Perfect Days”: Wim Wenders sublimates the routine of a toilet cleaner in Japan

“Perfect Days”: Wim Wenders sublimates the routine of a toilet cleaner in Japan


Selected at the Cannes Film Festival, in competition, where German filmmaker Wim Wenders received the Palme d’Or for Paris, Texas (1984), then the Best Director Award for Wings of Desire (1987), Perfect Days returns to the cinematic journey to Japan – after Tokyo-Ga (1985), following in the footsteps of director Yasujiro Ozu. Wenders y follows the daily life of a modest man, Hirayama (Koji Yakusho), in his fifties, employed by the city of Tokyo to clean public toilets in the Shibuya district. The character accomplishes his thankless task to perfection, choreographing each gesture, thereby regaining a certain dignity, we understand implicitly.

The routine of this poet of clean toilets, curious about the slightest external sign (a shoot of grass…), is transformed into a sum of capsized moments, mention zen. Some will consider the haiku a bit ass-ass, but we must recognize in Wenders an art of staging the moments of life, for those who are willing to let themselves be moved. Like when Hirayama’s daily trips, behind the wheel of the van, become sublime by the simple act of listening to Patti Smith. Nevertheless, Perfect Days gives a feeling of déjà vu. Both the subject and the device remind us of the sumptuous Paterson (2016), by Jim Jarmusch, with Adam Driver in the role of a bus driver, author and occasional poet. In competition at Cannes, the film was ignored by the jury then chaired by George Miller.

Wenders does not leave his character, from getting up to going to bed, capturing his rituals, his way of putting on the uniform or taking it off in the evening. The editing assumes the repetitions, while modulating the rhythm and the length of the shots (a feast for the eye), vaporizing a hint of dramaturgy.

Temporal fiber

Starting from almost nothing, knowing that the tiny, here, is made into an event, the director weaves a concentric story at the end of which his hero gradually reconnects with the world. First the professional entourage, then the family, the scenario even sketching a romantic lead. A few characters illuminate the journey, such as the young actress Aoi Yamada, Japanese reincarnation of Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction (1994).

Wenders does not insist too much on the exoticism of Japanese toilets, with their hand shower for intimate hygiene, and their ultra-modern cabins, some of which go from transparency to opacity, depending on whether they are free or occupied… Their mute presence at the screen, with the comings and goings of users, still acts as a nod to Play Time (1967), by Jacques Tati. Here is something new that refers to the old, Wenders playing on the temporal fiber and on this philosophy of the sublime at hand, heir to L’Infra-ordinaire (1989, Seuil), by Georges Perec (1936-1982).

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