But there’s something else here. It seems that Wenders’s eye, like Hirayama’s, snagged on the shadows. The canopies of trees are omnipresent in the film, seeping into Hirayama’s dreams at night, which Wenders renders in hazy black and white.
There’s a word in Japanese that transliterates to “komorebi” and refers to a phenomenon for which there is no single word in English: the quality of light as it filters through foliage. Hirayama’s life and mind are full of shadows, despite the sunlight he keeps reaching for. The light of komorebi is not full brightness — it is glistening, ever-changing, full of variation. Hirayama loves this, and he photographs it because the constant capture of what other people miss — the subtle shifts in the canopy every single day — are for him another indication of the trees’ vitality.
Beyond the shadows, trees are a recurring motif in this film. There is the Skytree, which is the world’s tallest tower. In a bookstore, Hirayama buys a book entitled “Tree” by the author Aya Koda — “she deserves more recognition,” the bookseller tells him. And of course, there are the literal trees, always standing near the public toilets that Hirayama cleans. Trees put down roots and grow so slowly and imperceptibly that you can’t really notice. But they’re also markers of time, holding in their rings the evidence of radiation, precipitation, climate change and much more.
I wonder, a little, if Hirayama thinks of himself as related to the trees. When he spots a seedling that won’t grow without proper sunlight, he pulls a small folded pocket made of newsprint out of his wallet, spoons a bit of dirt in, adds the seedling, and brings it home to nurture there. He smiles at the saplings in his home, which he’ll bring outside one day. The trees represent something vital about life, the casting of sun and shadow both vital and inevitable to existence.
The title of “Perfect Days” is a reference to Lou Reed’s song “Perfect Day,” which plays one morning on Hirayama’s tape deck. “You just keep me hanging on,” the chorus repeats. Hirayama’s way of hanging on involves living with the shadows, appreciating the quality of the sunlight and putting down deep, deep roots.
Rated PG for some beer drinking and an immature co-worker. In Japanese, with subtitles. Running time: 2 hours 3 minutes. In theaters.