MBH Essays Feed

Perfect Days: A Wenders/Ozu Mash-up

Wim Wenders’ first narrative feature to be nominated for an Academy Award, Perfect Days is beautifully shot and perfectly edited but is not the perfect film some have dubbed it as it often feels flat in its repetitiveness, too much like Groundhog Day.  Despite the benign satisfaction that protagonist Hirayama, so named for the many Hirayamas in Ozu’s films, takes in his daily routine, he is an elderly version of the lonely, isolated, alienated young men who can relate to children but are terrified of women that populate Wenders’ early films.  Wenders, in fact, includes deliberate references to those films.  Like Bruno in Kings of the Road (Im Lauf der Zeit, 1976), Hirayama reads Faulkner, and on his last trip to his local bookstore, he purchases a novel by Patricia Highsmith, whose Ripley’s Game was adapted by Wenders to become The American Friend (Der amerikanische Freund, 1977).  (The bookstore which Hirayama visits repeatedly may itself be a nod to Hou Hsiao-hsien’s Café Lumière [2003], another less than inspiring attempt to channel Ozu.) 

Hirayama photographs routinely with a now-archaic, small, point-and-shoot film camera, heir to Philip’s exploration of all manner of photography in Alice in the Cities (Alice in den Städten, 1974), and he listens to rock music from the 1960s and 70s like all of Wenders’ characters from that era.  Hirayama’s music comes from his large collection of cassette tapes, another throwback to the 20th century, while the diegetic rock music in the early films generally came from the radio.

Perfect Days ends almost exactly as Kings of the Road does.  A close-up of Hirayama driving his van, while Nina Simone’s rendition of Feeling Good (which originated in the 1964 musical The Roar of the Greasepaint—the Smell of the Crowd) blares on the sound track, echoes Kings, which ends with a close-up of Bruno driving while Roger Miller’s 1964 ballad King of the Road plays.  The “protagonist” in both sixties ballads is an outsider who sings of life apart from the constraints of society.  The only difference in these two final sequences is that the shot of Hirayama is severely frontal while that of Bruno is lateral.  The severity in the framing and cutting in Perfect Daysmay be another homage to Ozu, but it also reflects the severity of the life choices Hirayama has made.

Unlike Wenders’ early films, which were road movies—messy, energetic and pressing forward, despite having little in the way of plot—Perfect Days has a cyclical structure, intended, perhaps, to evoke Ozu, but also in keeping with the fact that Hirayama, as an older man, has settled on his life choices and adopted a routine that varies little from day to day.

The protagonists in Wenders’ early films struggle against history, American hegemony, and bourgeois conformity, but similar struggles, primarily against the salaryman life expected of middle class Japanese men, are in Hirayama’s past.  He has broken with his family.  We are told his father stopped speaking to him—reminiscent of the confrontation between Robert and his father in Kings—and now the father has dementia, but Hirayama still refuses to visit him.  This refusal, along with the visit from his niece and sister, are the only indications that Hirayama is still processing the alienation that drove him to become a toilet cleaner.  Otherwise, his life is composed of set routines that seem to please him but which render the film rather dull.  Perfect Days attempts to capture a kind of Zen stasis, the mu that Ozu so treasured, but mu, often translated as nothingness, indicates a nothingness that is the gateway to sublimity.  The nothingness in Perfect Days—despite brief interludes of pathos, charm and humor—seems mostly to be just nothingness.




































Morocco 2022

  • 047 Guard, Hassan Tower
    In 2018, a friend from London told me he had purchased a riad (row house) in Marrakech. Enthusiastically, I promised to visit. I had never given a thought to visiting Morocco, to Morocco as a country, or anything about Morocco. Maybe I associated it vaguely with the film Casablanca or the French Foreign Legion, but certainly not with a modern Muslim society. Morocco had not even come up in news about the Arab Spring of 2010, but I wanted to be supportive. So in 1919 Steve and I made plans to visit my friend in Marrakech during his fall vacation the following year. However, by the time our plans had shipwrecked on the shoals of Covid, not once but twice, I began to seriously question my loyalties. Nevertheless, finally, serendipitously, in the spring of 2022, it all came together. The specter of Covid tests still hung over us, but we started out gamely and discovered a world of gracious people, amazing art and architecture, delicious food, and a fascinating history (that I am far from mastering). After visiting my friend and his beautiful riad in Marrakech, we joined a guided tour of Morocco’s “Imperial Cities,” i.e. those that had served as capitols to different rulers and dynasties from Roman times to the present. The following album contains the best of Steve’s photos from the trip.

The Best of Sandy and Rocky

  • 035 King of the Universe
    Sandy was a year old when he came to us in 2013 as a scrawny stray with one misshapen eyelid. A few months of hearty eating transformed him into a sandy-haired beauty, extraordinarily gentle and extremely fond of cuddling and schmoozing. About that time we adopted three-month-old Rocky, mischief-maker and comedian-in-chief. Where Sandy never saw a lap he didn’t like, Rocky never passed up a box or a bag if he could possibly get in it. When, in 2015, our permanent move to Mill Brook House enabled the cats to go outside, Sandy proved himself a fearsome hunter while Rocky fell in love with wild turkeys and domestic chickens. Sadly, at the end of his first outdoor summer, Sandy disappeared. Days of calling, searching and alerting neighbors turned up nothing. Devastated at first, Rocky eventually recovered his moxie, and he continues to romance the chickens across the street, play pirates in the claw foot tub, and fall asleep on the hand-hewn beams in the attic. This album commemorates our “cat years.”

Charlemont at 250

  • 027 Balloon Rides
    This year marks Charlemont's 250th Anniversary (incorporated 1765). See photographs here and read more at: http://www.millbrookhousenews.com/mill-brook-house-news/2015/06/charlemont-at-250.html. For permission to reproduce any of these photographs, please contact Steven Sternbach: [email protected].

Shelburne Falls' Bridge of Flowers

  • C014
    The Shelburne Falls trolley bridge, connecting the villages of Buckland and Shelburne, was built in 1908 to carry freight and passengers on a 7.5 mile line to Colrain. With the advent of the automobile, however, trucks began hauling freight, and in 1927 the company that built the bridge went bankrupt. Turning the abandoned bridge into a flower garden was the brainchild of Antoinette and Walter Burnham, who, with the Shelburne Falls Women’s Club, raised $1000 for loam, fertilizer and plants, and made this unique, historic landmark a reality in 1929. Then, as now, all the labor to start the garden and keep it going was donated. This album is a month by month chronicle of the ever-changing spectacle the bridge presents to tourists and residents every year from April to September.

Western Mass.


  • MassMoCA, Exterior
    The photographs in this album record exhibits at MassMoCA in North Adams, MA, on January 1, 2011. All of these photographs are copyrighted by Steven Sternbach; for permission to reproduce them, contact the photographer at [email protected].
Blog powered by Typepad