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Reform Magazine | May 18, 2024

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Reviews February 2024 - Reform Magazine

Reviews February 2024

Invaluable service

Perfect Days
Directed by Wim Wenders
Certificate PG, 123 minutes
Released 23 February

The greatest among you shall be your servant. These are not words we readily understand in our contemporary world. Here, Wim Wenders (Paris, Texas; Wings of Desire) makes a film which seems not only to encapsulate the idea but to render it readily digestible.

Hirayama (Koji Yakusho) has worked for The Tokyo Toilet Company for five or six years and takes great pride in his job. His young co-worker on their two-person detail, Takashi (Tokio Emoto), doesn’t share his enthusiasm, doesn’t do the job very well, and would rather be somewhere else.

Hirayama drives a small van and has invested in various tools to help him carry out the job; Takashi rides a motor scooter. Hirayama takes great pleasure in listening to his audio cassette music collection on his van’s cassette player driving to and from work. When Takashi’s scooter breaks down on the evening that he plans to take girlfriend Aya (Aoi Yamada) for a drink, Takashi begs to borrow the van.

So Hirayama drives co-worker and girlfriend to their destination. Both are impressed with his audio cassettes, a pop relic from an earlier generation. The cash-strapped Takashi drags Hirayama along to a second-hand cassette shop to find out the value of his collection. (A great deal, as it turns out, however Hirayama has no plans to sell).

Outside of work, Hirayama has more hobbies. With an old 35mm camera, he snaps black and white pictures of trees in the park where he has lunch, taking the film to a little shop that still processes them. He rips up the rotten snaps, while he files away the good ones in a series of metal boxes in his modest flat. Some evenings, he hangs out in a small bar.

These are simple, everyday pleasures, and Wenders realises them brilliantly on the screen. His greater achievement, though, is to make appealing a character who provides an invaluable service at the lowest level of the social food chain when the usual approach is to look down at them.

Jeremy Clarke is a film critic.


Bible story time

Paula Gooder
Hodder and Stoughton
ISBN: 978-1-444-79205-8

This book is a story, not a novel. A novel, Paula Gooder insists, exists for its own sake, constrained only by the imagination of the author; her story is constrained by what can be found in Acts 16, Philippians and the scholarship around these texts. If that sounds daunting, I can assure you it is not. Gooder’s imagination and ability to tell a story are every bit as good as her scholarship.

Two-thirds of the book is story and one-third is notes. I am someone who normally ignores notes but this time, as a reviewer, I read them and found them so interesting and enlightening: the ins and outs of the purple dye trade, scholarship on Paul’s harsh remarks about Jewish Christians, the fluid nature of leadership (deacon, overseer, elder), and much else. But Gooder is such a good storyteller, just reading the story is also an enriching experience.

Gooder sets the story in Philippi where Lydia was baptised and Paul and Silas were imprisoned and then chased off after releasing the little slave girl who earned money by ‘prophesying’. That girl, rescued by Lydia, fled the city with her and now, ten years later, they return. The fragile little communities of the ‘people of the Way’ in that city form the meat of the story and their ups and downs are pastorally related by Paula to Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Gooder suggests that reading the letter before, or alongside, reading this story would be helpful – and it was.

I learnt a lot from this book but, more importantly, I felt moved, inspired and even challenged as one does after a really good sermon.

Sheila Maxey is a member of Ingatestone URC


The master noticer

Next to Nature
Ronald Blythe
John Murray
ISBN: 978-1-39980-469-1

Ronald Blythe died in 2023, not long after his 100th birthday, having rarely strayed from the part of Suffolk where he was born. From humble beginnings he became a friend of many people, from farm workers through clergy, to famous painters, musicians and writers. He gained success in Akenfield, his classic description of village life, was a diligent lay reader in the Church of England, a Church Times columnist, and author of a great many books and articles.

Notes from Nature is a collection of Blythe’s short pieces arranged by month. I hoped to find in it a couple of readings for Christmas, but swiftly realised this is much more than a gathering of seasonal contributions. Each entry is an exquisite piece of observation, connection-making, and presentation. Blythe is a master craftsman with words but, more than that, he has a rare, godly gift of being a noticer. Whether he is writing about Sunday’s lectionary reading, a long-dead poet, primroses appearing in the lanes, the feel of a bluebell wood, or the death of a bellringer, he has the ability to meld disparate elements into a coherent, thought-stirring experience. He has something to show as much as to say: a seamless flow of God, revealed through liturgy, music, seasons, and the essential events of life and death.

Each monthly chapter is introduced by an eclectic group of writers – Maggie Hambling, Vikram Seth, Rowan Williams, Richard Mabey – who illustrate why Blythe is so highly regarded.

Next to Nature is not a book to be rushed, but savoured. If we are fortunate enough, we too might learn how to be a godly noticer.

Ian Fosten is Book Reviews editor for Reform


This article was published in the February 2024 edition of Reform

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