Perfect Days (2023)

December 6th, 2023
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Wim Wenders | Cast: Koji Yakusho, Tokio Emoto, Arisa Nakano, Yumi Aso | Drama 123′

Wim Wenders’ latest cinematic sortie celebrates the simple pleasures in life seen through the day to day existence of a lavatory attendant in Tokyo, where these facilities are a genuine art form kept immaculately clean by this elegant janitor.

Perfect Days has the same gentle rhythms and sympathetic quirkiness as Paris Texas but this time the main character is at peace with his modest lifestyle. Late middle age finds Hirayama satisfied with the status quo and able to embrace change when it makes a welcome appearance, and not disappointed when it goes away again. Recognise this person in yourself? Then Perfect Days is your film.

Koji Yakusho is a joy to behold and his captivating presence (as Hirayama) radiates throughout the film drawing us into a delightful fable where life just bobs along contentedly in a state of grace often called ‘flow’. Hirayama finds his happiness in music, books, food and photography.

Wim Wenders has long been fascinated by cities: and Tokyo has frequently come under his radar: his stylish1980s documentary Notebook On Cities And Clothes also ponders creative potential. And here the focus of his protagonist’s days is the lavatory: form and function. And Tokyo’s water closets are the most inventively designed, and arguably the most pristine known to mankind, largely thanks to Hirayama and the locals whose sense of awareness and civilisation is second to none, public ablutions-wise.

More a philosophical meditation than a drama Perfect Days is nonetheless mesmerising. It brings the veteran German director’s technique and lightness of touch together with a vital ingredient that makes him one of film’s geniuses. Effortless and minimalism, this is a magical concoction, a meaning-of-life feature that gets to the very heart of human existence with its sheer simplicity. It could also bore the pants off mainstream audiences with its ‘nothing-really-happens’ banality.

A typical day for Hirayama sees him waking at dawn in his spartan apartment where he shaves and sips tea before slipping into his ‘Tokyo Toilets’ overalls for the drive to work. Despite a menial job he cuts a dapper figure in his blue cotton jumpsuit and seems cheerful in his endeavour: to keep the capital’s lavatories spotless. A goofy young colleague Takashi (Tokio Emoto) frets and moans about his love life and lack of money, but that ship has long sailed for Hirayama, these issues no longer concern him.

Music is his companion and we enjoy a score of iconic ’60s tunes, most significantly Lou Reed’s ‘Perfect Days’, which gives the film its title, along with Van Morrison and The Rolling Stones. Lunch and dinner are enjoyed with his regular bartenders, and here Wenders conjures up a culinary essence of contemporary Tokyo. Hirayama also enjoys photography; trees are of particular interest, and he takes cuttings from root stock potting the perfect little shoots, complete with soil, with the help of a paper container kept conveniently in his wallet. After a wash in the communal baths he beds down on his futon where he reads to the light of Tokyo’s neon illuminations. His dream-life is delicately etched in black and white montages evoking the Japanese concept of ‘komorebi’ and created by the director’s wife Donata Wenders.

Alone but not lonely and totally at ease with himself, Hirayama barely utters a word throughout but engages volubly when the need arises, as with Mama (Sayuri Ishikawa), a middle-aged woman who runs a noodle bar he often visits. His niece Niko (Arisa Nakano) makes a brief appearance, providing a welcome female presence in Hirayama’s life and fleshing out a backstory that speaks volumes. He looks on with a philosophical, knowing shrug of the shoulders when her mother arrives.

Tokyo is very much a character here beautifully captured by Franz Lustig’s perfect camerawork. The final sequence of Hirayama’s facial expressions as he drives through the night provides a charismatic valediction to a memorable but slender snapshot of a satisfying life. @MeredithTaylor


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