An opinion piece that you describe, praises or criticizes, on the whole or partly, to cultural or entertainment work. It must be written by an expert on the matter

‘Perfect Days’: so alone and so happy

In the film, director Wim Wenders – who has always had a powerful visual sense – captures Tokyo very well. Above all, his production has Koji Yakusho, a remarkable actor who exudes magnetism

Koji Yakusho, en 'Perfect Days'.
Carlos Boyero

On my cinematic altar, I have placed two films — even three — that bear the name of a young German director named Wim Wenders: Alice in the Cities (1974) and In the Course of Time (1976). In black and white, they speak of the shared and circumstantial journey of beings who are adrift, resigned, or doubtful. They carry the viewer — without haste and without pauses — through cities and towns. Wim Wenders also masterfully interpreted Patricia Highsmith’s brilliant novel — Ripley’s Game — in The American Friend (1977).

The director’s filmography is as long as it is pretentious, with mystical and lyrical aspirations. Many of his works of fiction are forgettable. However, he’s very good at the documentary genre. The Salt of the Earth (2014) — centered on the work of the admirable Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado — or his portrait of the choreographer and dancer Pina Bausch were both heartfelt and exemplary films.

I got worried when reading the plot of Perfect Days — Wenders’ latest fiction — which was filmed in Tokyo. It described the daily existence of a person who cleans public bathrooms. To begin with, it didn’t seem like it would be very stimulating to spend a couple of hours in the cinema observing the thankless job of leaving urinals, sinks and toilets sparkling clean.

In the film, at least, you see that the bathrooms are very well cared for — the construction and the interiors are beautiful. Japan, you think, must be a very civilized country.

The miracle in the face of such arid subject a matter is that at no point does it disconnect from the personality of the main character. Apart from seeing that he behaves like the best professional, Wenders doesn’t offer us excessive information about his past life, the relationships that he must have had, his dreams, or whether he imagines a different future. This guy is very lonely… but he doesn’t appear to be lonely. He only has close contact with an excessively jovial (and naive) companion.

Arisa Nakano and Koji Yakusho in 'Perfect Days'.
Arisa Nakano and Koji Yakusho in 'Perfect Days'.

But the happy loner reads William Faulkner before going to sleep and smiles at the sight of the sky when he wakes up. You sense his inner joy as he plays old cassette tapes in his car. And, during the drives, you get a sense of his good taste, since his spirit seems to float while he listens to Lou Reed, Van Morrison, Eric Burdon — amazing musicians and singers, impossible to replace.

He also enjoys riding his bicycle and is enthralled by photographing the trees in the parks. We deduce that this man had a different life in the past. When his sister and his niece appear, we realize that he comes from a family of millionaires. We can imagine many things about his previous existence… but again, we are offered no information, no flashbacks.

I can’t take my eyes off his routine. I deeply envy someone who feels so happy with the state of his life, even though he spends half his time cleaning toilets.

To reach such blissful isolation, he doesn’t appear to need self-help books, nor to believe in the gods. He doesn’t seem to practice yoga or meditation to gain placidity, balance, knowledge and inner peace. You hope that he’ll continue to have the joy of living, the karma that feeds his soul… that pleasant state of mind, his chosen solitude, the determination to do his work well. You hope that it won’t crush him.

Wenders — who has always enjoyed a powerful visual sense — shoots Tokyo very well. The images have magnetism. And, above all, the film has Koji Yakusho, a notable actor who also exudes magnetism. I, at least, can’t take my eyes off his face.

Perfect Days

Director: Wim Wenders.

Cast: Koji Yakusho, Tokio Emoto, Arisa Nakano and Aoi Yamada

Countries: Japan, Germany 

Genre: Drama

Duration: 123 minutes.

Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get more English-language news coverage from EL PAÍS USA Edition

More information

Archived In

Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS