Wenders and 'being' in the world. The director's latest masterpiece: “Perfect Days”


By John

He writes Wim Wenders in the book «In Defense of Places» (2005), never published in Italian: «What, in your opinion, is what drives a film? … What is the driving force of a film, its main gear, its soul? What directs its course? What gives it energy?”. In contemporary cinema, says Wenders, this strength comes from the story. Directors, writers, producers sometimes work for years to develop the story. And actors entrust their names to a project, because they believe in the story, much more than in the director, or in the budget, or in anything else. The story is the greatest hero of contemporary films. The actors are interchangeable, the director too, everything except the story, says Wenders almost verbatim. Stories, on the other hand, says Wenders, can be at the service of another “force” that has the power to direct the film. He is talking “about places”. Places, Schau-Plätze, locations. “Places”, as a subject, have a low attention span, and are usually taken for granted, but Wenders argues strongly against this point of view. «I would like to break a spearhead in favor of the place, and talk about the sense of place, as a faculty that is being lost, and certainly our sense of knowing how to appreciate places. (…) The people are represented by agents and lawyers, and there are unions that defend their interests. Places don't have lawyers, however. And I want to take on that role.”
His only profession is the traveller, going to places where he has never been, seeing a house, illuminated windows, shadows moving behind them, and thus the irresistible sensation of knowing everything about that place: how to live there, how the seasons pass, how those people spend their lives, how they have fun and what they worry about. For «The Sky Over Berlin» he had no story, no clue, he didn't even have the characters, he just had the desire to dig deeply into that place. He felt that the city wanted to be transformed into a film, using it as a tool. The place (statues, arches, angels) gave it history. The city had imposed the protagonists. History or “non-history”. Perhaps something like this happens for the latest film, «Perfect Days» (nominated for the Oscar for best international film).
The film was born from the initiative of the administration of Shibuya – one of the 23 special districts of Tokyo – which entrusted Wenders with a documentary on the “Tokyo Toilet Project”, the creation of seventeen public toilets designed by famous international architects. Wenders abandons the idea of ​​the docu and decides to make a film. Tokyo, its arteries, its causeways, its suburbs, the clubs, the benches, the skyscrapers, the trees in the parks, the new bathrooms deliver the story to the director.
«Places develop stories and make them happen. In fact, it is not true that stories simply “happen”, but they literally “take place” (another great expression: “they take place!”)”. The locations had found the story, and not vice versa. The film recounts the perfect days of Hirayama (the excellent Koji Yakusho, awarded best actor at Cannes), a public toilet cleaner in Tokyo who lives in a small house, always gets up at the same time, looks at the light-shadow of morning, he goes down to the street, drinks coffee, gets into his van and makes the journey to reach the bathrooms, with ritual care, as if the fate of the world depended on that attention and that scruple. A life of minimal gestures, always the same. The days, the hours, the nights, the places, the house are told several times, with different shots, shot with various lenses, divided into similar and changing space-times. Nothing seems to happen, everything seems to flow the same, but in the meantime the days pass and life passes because “now it's now and another time is another time”, as the man says to his granddaughter. Nor is there a musical score. We listen to the sound of dawn, of water, of cars, of trees. The music Hirayama listens to becomes our music, the soundtrack of the film.
Wenders, in almost all his films, “played and sang” the music of the protagonists and characters, because it gives the places their essence, that peculiar character that makes them unique and protagonists of the films. Here it is evident how Wenders entrusts the music he loves to Hirayama. Music gives a local, intimate, private color to Hirayama's days, who, we discover, has made an oppositional, alternative choice, lives a non-standardized and frenetic life in one of the capitals of globalization. And Wenders confesses a similar path: «Rock'n'roll made me survive the painful age of puberty. It gave a focus to my vague but intense desires. (…) If it hadn't been for the Kinks, the Troggs, the Pretty Things, the Stones, the Beatles, Van Morrison and, more than anyone else, Bob Dylan, I would never have tempted fate by giving up my studies to base the my future in that uncertain territory called “my creativity”. Their music was infectious. But not in the sense “Hey, I can do it too!”, rather in the sense of “If I don't do it now, I'll never do it”.
It's difficult to escape the feeling that Hirayama resembles Wenders: the two have in common the same love for photography, old digital cameras, for the times of photography, for the wait or restlessness with which they want to capture light and shadows . Wenders said: «As a photographer, you can be alone in front of places. You don't need so many people around you. There is no need for an assistant shouting: Silence! It's already quiet there. So I can stand there and listen. I can use my camera like a recorder, certainly capture the sounds of the place, but more than anything, capture the place that tells its story and its story.”
Places are always real, you can walk there or lie on the ground, but you can't take the place away with you. A place cannot belong to anyone, not even the camera. «Places have a thought, a memory… Perhaps this is why I photograph places above all: not merely to give an obvious image of them, but to appeal to their ability to remember, so that they don't forget us!».
The places, the music, the “characters”. The other source of stories. Hirayama is an amazing character. The “faces” he makes in the final sequence of the film, when he speeds in his van while dawn rises over Tokyo and Nina Simone sings «Feeling good», show the “character” of an individual, both pacified and restless, sad and joyful, in search of a new sense of self, of place, of life. Small, large, repetitive pieces, actions performed, with responsibility and care, in the eternal flow of the now. So maybe we could save ourselves. In this period in which no one seems to know “where it is”, Wenders-Hirayama suggests an otherwise everyday life, the need for a new sense of living and being there, of “being” in the world, wherever we live.