Thursday, June 20, 2024

Let's hear it for the trees

There's a hypnotic, meditative quality to Perfect Days which foregrounds the Koji Yakusho character's quiet immersion in simple everyday life as a Tokyo toilet cleaner. He is surrounded by busy people, but also by natural beauty. A touchstone here is the sunlight leaking through trees, summed up by some beguiling cinematic images of that komorebi effect. Quiet acceptance seems like a template for contentment and it has been suggested that Wim Wenders is taking a stand here. But what do we read into some of the other motifs? The cassette tapes he plays in the car each morning - those lo-fi analogue recordings of a previous generation that haunt the movie? Or the delicate suggestion that his past and his family relationships may not be so straightforward? And all those imaginative toilet designs that we encounter? Critics have tended to focus on the beauty of the film and have celebrated the portrayal of a character seemingly at peace with the world, turning away from, or escaping from the mess. But, perhaps inevitably, there's more beneath the placid surface of the film. It takes us away from toilets, from toilet cleaning and from Tokyo, such a potent symbol of the modern world. It could be argued that Perfect Days makes an uneasy settlement with the modern world, in the same way that the Koji Yakusho character may have made an uneasy settlement with his life. Some parallels can be found in another slow and quiet film - Here from the Belgian director Bas Devos. The central characters, a Romanian construction worker and a Chinese bryologist develop a romantic connection in natural beauty walking through the woodland around Brussels. The trees and the mosses come to the foreground, They are beautifully filmed as modern life speeds by in the background - trains ceaselessly moving rootless people from place to place. Here is another sideways glance at modernity. The character Stefan is more troubled than Wim Wender's toilet cleaner, but his life is just as simple and his motivations are nothing but generous - he cooks up soup and walks miles to deliver it in plastic tubs to his friends. Here may be overlooked because Devos is not so well known and because it may be siloed as art house, but it is still a real achievement. On the other hand Wim Wender's huge reputation has already insured that Perfect Days gets plenty of attention. But both films deserve to be taken seriously, both show what a feature-length film can do, and both have important messages for us. And let's hear it for trees - they don't feature in the credits, but they are major actors in both these wonderful, thought-provoking films.