Exploring Symbolic Shadows
When explaining the story’s complexities in Perfect Days, careful attention should be paid to the subtle way that shadows are portrayed. With their symbolic meaning, these shadows are a recurrent and painful motif that adds to the story’s emotional impact and thematic complexity. Furthermore, a close inspection of the film’s arboreal components reveals their crucial function in character and story development. In particular, Hirayama’s stare at these trees takes on a deep significance, almost like that of a standalone character.
As a janitor who looks after Tokyo’s public restrooms, Hirayama gets up early every day to do his work. His work ethic is evident in the loving attention he gives to the young seedlings growing within his home—a routine that is carried out with great care. Then, on his way to start his long shift, Hirayama chooses from a wide variety of cassette tapes that include music by legendary performers like Van Morrison, the Velvet Underground, and Nina Simone, which he listens to while he drives down the busy street.
Hirayama derives satisfaction from the painstaking performance of his work, but it soon becomes clear that his life is more than work, and the story in question is more than a shallow celebration of physical effort. His manner is one of a man who follows a methodical and modest routine that has been carefully designed to act as a barrier to keep chaos from invading his life. He comes out of his house every morning and takes a deep breath, something he does every morning at the same moment. Then he indulges in some well-known customs, a well-planned pattern in which he drinks the same coffee eats the same sandwich, and shoots repeated pictures of the treetops.
The Role of Material Media
One of the main sources of the peace that surrounds Hirayama’s life is his collection of material media, which stands in stark contrast to the modern environment where digital media predominate. In addition to his enormous collection of cassette cassettes, his small but well-kept living room has shelves full of beloved paperbacks and jars full of carefully cataloged pictures of trees. These tangible objects provide him with a sense of depth and richness by acting as his temporal anchors and constant companions through the ups and downs of each day. Particularly, when Hirayama chooses to carry a book to the neighborhood bar on the weekends, the owner, while appreciating his knowledge, makes fun of the fact that he is the perfect example of an intellectual.
Extremely reserved in speech, Hirayama adopts the persona of an astute spectator, focusing his attention on the complex web of Tokyo and its people with tactful care and unwavering patience. If such attributes are not carefully examined, they could be easily mistaken for a perceived simplicity of character. But astute viewers will see through the surface of his serene façade to glimmerings of a more nuanced emotional complexity, which materializes as brief bursts of agony that are only apparent in the minute details of his face. The plot of Perfect Days gradually reveals that Hirayama’s carefully planned life provides him with the means to navigate the present, possibly as a deliberate choice made in reaction to long-lasting trauma. The story is told over the course of a few weeks, drawing a contrast between times of calm and turmoil.
One chance meeting with the film’s director, Wim Wenders, led to the creation of Perfect Days, a masterpiece that earned Japan its first nomination for an international feature at the Oscars. The film’s origins can be traced to a question about the possibility of Wenders working together on a project that would elevate the stature of Tokyo’s clean public restrooms.
Embracing an Unlikely Premise
The beginning of a film with such an unlikely premise could seem out of place at first. Nevertheless, Wenders embraced the notion entirely, bringing a heartbreaking sense of nostalgia to the story despite its odd origins. When compared to the rapid advancement of technology, Hirayama’s unwavering commitment to analog methods verges on being forced; nonetheless, Koji Yakusho’s interpretation gives the character a genuineness that surpasses any possible gimmick. He is a representation of a person from a specific era who is unreservedly loyal to his tastes and unaffected by social pressure to follow the latest style. A younger coworker begs Hirayama to cash in on his tape collection and embrace modernity, but he stubbornly declines, displaying a strong distaste for keeping up with the rapidly changing times. Instead, he chooses to use his photos to document time as it passes, forgoing the quest for novelty to capture the timeless quality of his experiences.
But there is more meaning hidden beneath the surface. It becomes evident that Wenders, like Hirayama, has an astute eye for the nuances of shadow play. There is a term for this in Japanese called “komorebi,” which is difficult to translate into English but captures an idea that is difficult to express in a single word: the soft light that comes through the green leaves. Even though Hirayama keeps looking for sunlight—in the outside world as well as in the depths of his mind—his life is still shrouded in darkness. But komorebi’s brightness defies definitions; rather, it exudes a brilliant charm that is always changing and filled with a rainbow of subtleties. Hirayama’s love for using photography to capture the core of this occurrence demonstrates his deep admiration for it.
Trees as Recurring Themes
Beyond just examining shadows as a theme, trees are a recurring theme in this film, and they do so quite consistently. Among these tree depictions of note is the Skytree, a looming structure that bills itself as the tallest skyscraper in the world. Inside a bookstore, Hirayama continues to work with this theme when he purchases a book called Tree, written by the renowned novelist Aya Koda. The owner is pleased with his purchase and bemoans the author’s relative obscurity. Furthermore, trees themselves play a major part in the film’s visual composition as an ever-present background that is contrasted with the backdrop of the public restrooms that Hirayama maintains. Even though trees grow slowly and are barely noticeable, they are important for reasons beyond just being beautiful plants; they are moving symbols of time passing. A historical database containing evidence of radiation exposure, precipitation patterns, climatic variations, and many other environmental phenomena is embedded inside their concentric rings.
Hirayama, a compassionate man, takes care of a young seedling that lacks sunlight by creating a temporary container from a newsprint. He fills it with soil and nurtures the seedling, bringing it home to continue his efforts. The trees in his home symbolize the mutually reinforcing relationship between light and shadow, which is fundamental to all life. The title track Perfect Days pays homage to Lou Reed’s catchy tune, with the refrain “You just keep me hanging on” resonating deeply with Hirayama. The song emphasizes embracing life’s darkness, developing awareness of sunlight interactions, and laying down deep roots. The song’s catchy tones and deep meaning resonate with the listener.
- Bradshaw, P. (2023). Perfect Days review – Wim Wenders explores a quiet life in Tokyo. The Guardian.
- Ebiri, B. (2024). Wim Wenders Has Been Trying to Make Perfect Days His Whole Life. Vulture.
- Lodge, G. (2023). ‘Perfect Days’ Review: Wim Wenders’ Gentle Japanese Character Study Is His Best Narrative Film in Decades. Variety.
- Nguyen, K. (2023). Perfect Days review: a little too neat. The Verge.