Toilets Over Tokyo


Set in Tokyo, Wim Wenders’Perfect Days” is a portrait of a meticulous Japanese man’s devotion to a life of simplicity -- and toilet cleaning.

That’s right. Each day, with military discipline and a jeweler’s precision, he polishes toilets as if they deserved the respect due to aesthetic, sculptural objects.

If the porcelain-based focus seems odd as the basis of a feature film for the award-winning director of “Paris, Texas” and “Wings of Desire,” there’s a back story, and it’s even partially advertising-adjacent.

These are not just any toilets. Even in a country obsessed enough with the elimination process to have birthed the poo emoji, and long the home of toilet cleansing, heating and flushing technology way superior to ours, these new, futuristic restrooms are part of an actual, recently built initiative called The Tokyo Toilet. Our character Hirayama, played by actor Koji Yakusho, is dedicated to driving around in his van, a company man scrubbing them.



Japan's innovative take on the public convenience aims to ensure that anyone can find and use an accessible, comfortable bathroom. The project’s directors hired architects and artists from all over the world to design 17 breakthrough public structures that would be eye-pleasing, welcoming, safe, and practical.

Placed around Tokyo’s Shibuya district, each is like a mini-shrine to public health and comfort.

The visionary behind The Tokyo Toilet is Kji Yanai, a design guy who's also director of the Fast Retailing group, parent of the Uniqlo clothing chain. He approached Wenders to do a few short documentary films (hence, ads) about the project.

As Wenders told Awards Daily, “In the end I didn’t really know how to do these short films. “ 

But it was 2022, and Japan was coming back from the pandemic. Wenders said he was intrigued by “the sense of common good and the carefulness about public places”  poured into the plan. “I  thought there was a bigger story to be told,” Wenders said.

“I realized what would be so much more fun… to make a full-length dramatization about a Tokyo Toilet worker. “ He was given 16 days on the properties to shoot.

Known for his mesmerizing visuals and spare dialogue, Wenders wrote the script with his friend, the Japanese screenwriter Takuma Takasaki, and it’s all about the details.

Each morning monastic character Hirayama awakens in his small duplex to the sound of a female street sweeper. He puts the book he read the night before back on its shelf, shaves, brushes his teeth, trims his tidy moustache (somehow, he retains his movie-star hair) mists his plants and puts on his deep blue, artfully designed Tokyo Toilet jumpsuit. He’s a handsome man with expressive eyes and a life as minimal and tidy as the tatami mat he rolls up each morning and unrolls each night for sleep.

Hirayama opens the door, takes a deep breath, smiles appreciatively up at the sky, grabs a can of coffee from a vending machine, and drives to his job.

The limited richness in his life comes through in the intriguing curated music he plays on his van’s cassette player: a wonderful mix of American musical artists mostly from the 1970s, including Patti Smith, Lou Reed,(thus the title) Van Morrison and Nina Simone.

This part, from the time he salutes the sky in the morning and fuels his drive with this cool, insider-y music that obviously had meaning in an earlier life, could be a great ad.

Hirayama has a reverence for nature. Every day at lunch, he sits in a public park eating the same packaged sandwich and using  his analog camera to capture the sun-inflected balcony the trees and leaves make above his head. He gets the film developed and obsessively curates the shots, putting them in metal boxes in his closet. 

We see these same shadowy visions invade his dreams at night. Perhaps he’s putting his memories and feelings from a previous life in metaphorical lock boxes as well.

His fastidiousness and rigidity is eventually broken by an unexpected visit from a runaway grown niece. She even goes to work with him for a while, until her mother, Hirayama’s sister, comes to collect her. She’s shocked that he’s cleaning toilets and seemingly happy. He also interacts with a bookstore owner who calls him an “intellectual,” and a female bar owner who is revealed to bring out a depth of feeling in him that could lead to happy possibilities.

In the end, this is an affecting fictional work that sometimes feels like a documentary.

Ironically, even with the serious philosophical questions it raises about what makes a life worth living, the movie does serve as a tourist promo for Tokyo’s Toilets.  I want to see them.

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