Internationally acclaimed German writer/director, Wim Wenders, doyen of European cinema, returned to competition for the Palme D’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival with his latest film, Perfect Days.
It’s a simple, touching story of a working-class man scraping a living cleaning Tokyo’s public toilets – a warm-hearted, touching piece of humanist cinema, sharp in its social criticism yet ultimately mighty in its belief in the decency of ordinary people.
Middle-aged Hirayama seems content with his labour cleaning the toilets. He reads books and listens to music on cassettes of the 70s and 80s, at ease with his solitude. While the actor fills the screen with thoughtful silences, his eyes reflect the amazement and joy of the little things in life. Wenders follows his activities with obsession and respect. Like a documentary, he records the details of his daily routine, as he wakes up early, waters his plants, takes his uniform, an old mobile phone, a few coins, and the keys to his van. With devotion, he scrubs one toilet after another. Until late one evening, when Hirayama goes back to his tiny home and finds his humble routine interrupted by an unexpected visit.
Clearly Wenders is not a “provocateur”. He tells the story with a gentle, elegant, poetic touch. The film has a compassionate, romantic look, but isolation, social justice, and solidarity are its backdrop. He understands poverty is not something that belongs only to less affluent parts of the world but can be found in a big modern city like Tokyo.
A poetic, sophisticated tribute that slides across the screen showing how, in a society becoming increasingly alienating and unjust, the soul of the gentlest of men may be dissolved. Hirayama, interpreted by Koji Yakushi, could won Best Actor Awards at Cannes for his poignant performance.