Daily Archives: Friday, March 8, 2024

  • Perfect Days     Wim Wenders (2023; Ger/Jap)

    Perfect Days     Wim Wenders (2023; Ger/Jap)  Koji Yakusho

    viewed Tyneside Cinema Newcastle 27 Feb 2024; Ticket £11.75

     No pun intended

    To begin at the ending. Third shot from the end of ‘Perfect Days’ is a long close up of protagonist Hirayama’s face seen through the reflecting images on the windscreen of his little cleaning van as he drives through Tokyo.  In the shot his face goes through a number of different acted out contortions as if wanting to express in this one take a condensed accelerated series of facial images representing the spectrum of both the emotions and aging.  The shot is overlaid with Nina Simone singing ‘Feeling Good’ recorded in 1965, the last of the classic 60’s and 70’s tracks featured throughout the film. The Simone song, like the other tracks represent Wenders’ abandonment of exposition for the sake of exploitation, music used as a direct line into the vein of the audience experience to manipulate their experience of the film, and ‘Feel Good.’  Feel Good just like Wenders.  

    Wenders’ decision to make ‘Perfect Days’ seems closely related to his well known admiration for Japanese film maker Ozu about whom he made a circumspect documentary in 1985.  Ozu’s films are what could be called quiet propositions.  The scenarios mostly comprise long takes in which we see the action from a particular position.  Ozu’s narratives, such as  in Tokyo Story, whilst they have dynamic traction seem less central to the films than their structure and the ordering of the shifting and instable social relations that underlie the scripts.  Ozu’s particular way of shooting his films use the seen to reveal the unseen, what is seen by the camera points to the unseen, the emotional substrate underlying the surface of life.  There is no manipulation, no judgement, no direct representation of meaning, simply exposition. A series of shots that ask the audience to move beyond the presenting lucidity of the image.

    Wenders’ opening focuses on his central character Hirayama and the round of actions and activities that comprise the way that he lives.  His getting up in the morning routine, starting his little van and setting out for his work as an itinerant cleaner of public lavatories.  Nodding in Ozu’s direction  ‘Perfect Days’ through Hirayama’s daily round shows something both of contemporary urban Tokyo and the way people live in this city; the small dramatic subplot involving Hirayama’s runaway niece opens up something about his past his character and the forces that might underlie his choice of a particular way of life. 

    But as the film develops its momentum the weight of the material shifts from the dilation of the richness in the detail of the everyday to the contraction of the film into emotional impoverishment, the reduction of the material to a sentimental nostalgia.  In the opening section of the film when Hirayama sets off to work he puts one of his tapes into the van’s cassette deck which blasts out the 60’s hit by the Animals ‘ The House of the Rising Sun.’  As his film progresses Wenders increasingly features Hirayama playing his music, almost exclusively the sort of British and American tracks that are redolent and characteristic of a certain spirit of the 1960s’ – Brown Eyed Girl, Dock of the Bay, Sunny Afternoon and of course Perfect Day.

    As the music plays it has an increasingly dominating effect that exerts emotive control over ‘Perfect Days’.  The music becomes overwhelming.  It is as if Wenders’ intention is to pitch us back into a mythic era when the sun shone on the top ten hits and the voices carried a message of hope.  A golden time that of course that never was but in which we might like to lose ourselves if we accept to drink from the director’s golden but addled chalice.  As one character comments: “Why can’t things just stay the same…?”   As a line from Wenders’ script it isn’t just  nostalgia that takes over and dominates the scenario, it is in particular, Wenders’ nostalgia. 

    In some respects ‘Perfect Days’ is a shadowy film.  Interpolated throughout the film are self contained sequences depicting the purely optical: fusions of the reflection and refraction of shadow: the play of light and darkness.  These sequences may depict Hirayama’s vision but in themselves are a core element of the Japanese aesthetic, the transient and the natural.  But as discrete clips detached from the natural world these shadow sequences lose their aesthetic validity, the essential imminence of the world.  They are not seen; they are viewed.  Perhaps one ‘shadow sequence’ might have had a particular strong effect.  Repeated a number of times throughout the film they become devices to represent an idea to Western audiences, a shadow of the actual.  And there is another shadow that interpenetrates the film: the shadow of Wenders.

    What seems to be happening in ‘Perfect Days’ is that Wenders (perhaps in a perfect daze)  has surreptitiously inserted himself as the main character in the film.  As the film develops scene by scene Wenders substitutes himself for Hirayama until in that final shot with Nina Simone singing ‘Feeling Good’ there is no Hirayama left only his outer form.  Hirayama’s essence has been sucked out completely devoured by the shadow of Wenders who so disguised proceeds to regale and seduce us with his yearnings for simpler times. ‘Perfect Days’ becomes by default a psychic vampire movie.

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