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Perfect Days Review

Perfect Days Review

It’s been more than twenty years since legendary German director Wim Wenders helmed a well-liked narrative movie. Sure, his recent factual work – Pina, Salt of the Earth, Anselm – has won international plaudits, but it’s not since the early ‘aughts that he’s released a fictional film to even muted praise.

Well, until Perfect Days came along.

Wenders’ latest follows Hirayama (Koji Yakusho), who works as a toilet attendant for the public conveniences across Tokyo. We track him through several days in his life as he attends to his little indoor garden of plant cuttings, grabs a coffee from the vending machine right outside his house, heads off to diligently attend to the toilets, to a public bathhouse to relax afterwards, sometimes to a friendly local bar, and then goes home and reads for a bit before nodding off to sleep.

It’s a simple life, and Hirayama finds contentment within the folds of the everyday; the music cassettes he listens to as he drives to work in the morning, the play of the light between the trees where he has his lunch, the quiet companionship of those he passes on his rounds. Gradually though, small things begin to interrupt his precious routine, and Hirayama must learn how to navigate a world less structured.

The star of Perfect Days is acclaimed Japanese actor Koji Yakusho, who gives Hirayama an easy warmth and gravitas. Whilst this is not a silent movie, Hirayama often goes for great swathes of time without talking, instead just listening and reacting to his more loquacious acquaintances – particularly his hyper-talkative colleague, the younger Takashi (Tokio Omoto). Although we never learn all that much about Hirayama’s past, only hints as the film progresses, Yakusho is able to nod at a complicated history and convey great swatches of emotion, all with minimal dialogue; there’s no better example of this than the immensely moving final scene, where a whole silent symphony plays out on his face. It’s a gorgeous, heart-squeezing performance, well deserving of his top prize at last year’s Cannes Film Festival.

And Wenders clearly trusts in Yakusho, and understands that spending time in his presence is more than enough of a gift for Perfect Days to bestow – he lets his lead actor lead the movie, and makes his own direction supportive, rather than obtrusive. As was always the case when working outside of his native Germany in films like Paris, Texas and Lisbon Story, his outsiders’ eye leads to some beautiful compositions both natural and architectural (the designs of the various toilets on Hirayama’s route are a highlight; often bonafide works of art). This is a film that argues, quietly but whole-heartedly, that there’s so much beauty in the every day, and shows us that truth in every single scene.

Whether Perfect Days portends a return to narrative form for Wim Wenders we’ll have to wait and see. For now – and to quote the movie, “Next time is next time, now is now.” – it’s just wonderful to have him back at his very best.


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