Cheri's Blog


Seattle is home to the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF), and early this year, I signed up for a membership. Aside from hosting the annual film festival, they’re a well-respected nonprofit that runs four theaters in the city, most of which show a mix of popular and artsy films. Signing up for a membership gave me an extra excuse to go see movies, including movies that fit that “artsy” category. Films that are made for a smaller audience than a Marvel movie or the latest Fast and Furious franchise entry. And there’s something charming about buying a two-dollar packet of Swiss Miss cocoa powder at the nonprofit theater and mixing up your own drink. It’s akin to watching a movie in your own house, only with a much bigger screen and a roomful of neighbors.

Along those lines, I really enjoyed Poor Things and American Fiction, two movies that hardly made a blip in the Regal-AMC-Cinemark zeitgeist. After getting annoyed with movies in general for being repetitive, derivative, and downright boring, it’s as if I’ve tapped into a vein of quality art that’s quietly been there all along. Why should I mindlessly graze through the latest pabulum on Netflix when I could lose my damn mind to intellectual oddities like Neptune Frost or Obayashi’s House?

Last week, I caught wind of a new “artsy” movie called Perfect Days. It’s a Japanese film about a toilet cleaner, of all things, and I absolutely loved it. I’ve been unable to get it out of my mind.

A promotional image for Perfect Days. An older Japanese man in a blue jumpsuit sits on a bench and looks up blissfully at trees.

It would be easy to say there isn’t a lot of story in this story, because most of the film is simply the camera following the protagonist as he lives and works. He cleans toilets. He reads books. He admires trees. His life is outwardly uncomplicated yet inwardly rich. He lives an entirely analog existence, enjoying his cassette tapes and just one book per week.

As much as I’ve simplified my life over the years, living in a tiny space, ditching most of my belongings, and boiling my days down to their essence, I felt envious of Hirayama. He helps me realize that the chasm between my life right now and the serenity I want isn’t about finding the latest life hack or cutting three more things out of my day. It’s more about character. I can choose to be engaged with the “right now.” I can be generous. I can let it go when others are rude, and I can focus on the beauty of the moment.

That’s the internal, important stuff.

As for my fascination with the analog world, I suspect it’s about more than aesthetics. A paper journal does not track me or try to profile me. Once I’ve bought it, it’s mine forever. There’s an element of risk and excitement to taking an analog photo, or buying a theater ticket at the box office without slavishly pouring over the trailers. When we clear away everything that isn’t important right now, it’s easier to be where we are. Who knows? Perhaps a cassette tape offers a satisfying clunk when it enters the cartridge, and because we cannot skip around impatiently, we kick back and enjoy.

Hirayama doesn’t watch the news. He’s never heard of Spotify. His mind is on his task, and he reads only one book at a time. If I’m envious of all that, perhaps I need only to live as I want to.

Could it be that easy?