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  • Writer's pictureJamie

Perfect Days - Review

Before Perfect Days, I had only been familiar with Wim Wenders work by name, like Paris, Texas or WIng of Desire. So this was my first experience with his work, hearing really high praise coming from the festival circuit it has been on for the past year, leading to an Academy Award nomination for best international feature. This is also following along from the win that Koji Yakusho had for best actor at the Cannes FIlm Festival in 2023. Yakusho portrays Hirayama, the protagonist of the story and one that really dominates the screen for the two hour runtime. With all that build up, I had some high expectations but no idea what to actually expect from the content, just that I was sure to like it.To talk about the film in a way that doesn’t sound pretentious, is a little difficult, especially when you hear how I feel about the story it offers us.

Said story, centres around Hirayama, a Tokyo public toilet cleaner who revels in the “mundane” routine of his life, taking pride in his work and its simplicity. His routine is established for us an audience immediately, showing him waking up to the sound of a woman routinely brushing falling leaves and debris off her path. The hushing alarm wakes Hirayama up in time for him to quickly finish off a sentence or page of reading that he had yet to complete the night before. He then tidies away his bedding, book and reading glasses before heading in to water his plants and get freshened up for the day with some teeth cleaning and moustache preening. After that, it's out to his work van to grab a coffee from the vending machine and drive to work with a cassette of a variety of iconic 70s music. 

We watch him while he works and then his post work routine, even getting a glimpse into some days off where he washes his uniform and pays a visit to a local bar. 

All this is established and kept through the runtime of the film, all while we slowly learn more and more about him as a person, how he interacts, what and who he holds dearly and how he feels about a break in the routine. 

During college, I had a script writing module, wherein we were told the formula for telling a story; Establish a character, and their routine, then break it. That was it. The simple basis for most stories is just taking someone out of their normal life with an anomaly or a switch up in how they have run their life before we meet them. Perfect Days ignores that sentiment for the most part though, sticking to the Hirayama’s life with small deviations giving us an insight into who he is. The strange thing is that while watching, the moment we’re taken out of his routine, it feels jarring and uncomfortable. Even though on the surface, nothing is happening in his routine that should keep an audience engaged, the character and performance from Yakusho make him such a watcable person, almost in a fly on the wall type of way. There is a simplistic serenity in how Hirayama runs his life that takes you out of the everyday life you’re living and allows you fully into his. I have so much time for cinema like this, that can transport you into another’s life without it having to be outlandish or completely different to my own experience. Hirayama is a relatable character and enjoys things that most of us often do without really thinking about it, like taking a picture or stepping out the door in the morning to appreciate the fresh air. 

There is also an element of his character that feels as though we join him post deviation. The more we learn about Hirayama, the more it seems as though he had a different life before this one, one of more privilege or stress that he has left for the one he leads now. I think this aspect also helps us as the audience follow along his journey without looking for a shift in pace or environment, we understand that through interactions that his life was not always this way, and who he is now, is someone he has worked to be.

The technical side of the film follows a very documentarian style, inviting us in through a realistic and “on the go” type of view. The film was shot with one camera, on the shoulder of the DoP Franz Lustig. This simplistic approach really grounds you with Hirayama as you watch him traverse through his routine and really lets you in on his life. The score and slow edits blend well together too with most of the soundtrack being provided by Hirayama himself as he listened on his way to work. 

The editing follows suit with the story and is slow, keeping you in the moment with the characters and letting them set the tone of the scene through their performances. 

Yakusho really is perfect in this role, feeling so confident in his portrayal of this character. He commands the screen in a way that isn’t overbearing or dramatic, just embodies the person and gives him so much inherent personality to latch on to. Hirayama isn’t the most chatty or protagonists so allowing him the space to be silent, the physical performance and genuine reactions coming really sell his character and make so instantly likeable. This never falters as the film goes on, watching him traverse through social situations and solitary time with a steady and kind hearted approach. It is so refreshing to have a decent character shown on screen, without the question of morals or intent, just genuine and someone for us to rely on while we watch the story unfold.

Perfect Days is a pretty unconventional film in its storytelling, pacing itself like not many I have seen, allowing you to delve into Hirayama’s life through your own thoughts rather than it being laid out directly in front of you. It also doesn’t deprive you of additional story in the meantime, giving you a satisfying viewing experience, even without the reliance on traditional methods of filmmaking. 

Also huge shoutout to the public toilets which feel like reason enough to travel around Tokyo, all being designed by fifteen famous architects. They all have their own unique personality built within them, showcasing the diversity of Japan’s landscape and culture. I don’t know if the occupation means anything in the film but from what I can tell, Wim just saw how they looked and knew he had to make a film with them. I would, maybe I will. 

Finally, the only point of reference or review you should need to see this film is that I got to see this with my dad and he didn’t fall asleep, even liking the film. That’s unimaginable praise.


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