Film Review: Perfect Days

Words: Alexander Mobbs-Iles
Monday 26 February 2024
reading time: min, words

Wim Wenders returns to form with his latest film...

Brody Perfect Days

Life can get repetitive. You wake up, go to work, eat, sleep. In Wim Wenders' latest film Perfect Days we follow a middle-aged toilet cleaner in Tokyo whose existence appears equally monotonous. Only he seems to have achieved a state of harmony with life. In fact, his way of seeing the world around him elevates the simple acts of everyday existence into something sublime and captivating to behold.

Perfect Days is a return to the style and themes that occupied his earlier filmmaking. Reminiscent of the slow-paced contemplative films like Alice in the Cities, Wings of Desire and Paris, Texas; here we find subtle human moments expressed with such care and grace that it makes Perfect Days a contender for his most engaging and powerful film to date. 

Hirayama (Koji Yoshuto) wakes at dawn to the sound of streetsweepers, tends to his sapling trees, grabs his coffee from a vending machine and then performs his daily work, cleaning the toilets of Tokyo with meticulous attention to detail. This ritualised routine is punctuated by the observation of seemingly insignificant moments, like light passing through trees or the quiet swaying of a homeless man in the park. Hirayama occupies the rest of his time reading books in his sparse apartment, taking photos with his film camera and listening to rock music from his vast collection of cassette tapes as he drives through the city. The songs of Patti Smith, Nina Simone, the Velvet Underground and Otis Redding form the memorable soundtrack of Perfect Days, which even takes its name from a famous Lou Reed track. For Hirayama life seems to have ground to a halt, and his attachment to analogue technology and the music of the 70s and 80s seems to reflect that he has either reached a state of contentment or is unable to move on from an earlier stage of his life. 

Written collaboratively with Japanese screenwriter Takumi Takasaki, Perfect Days possesses a tone of both quiet melancholy and the joy of everyday existence. In Japanese the term for this is ‘mono no aware’, the acute awareness that all things will end, and that there is both sadness and beauty in the impermanence of life. Koji Yoshuto’s performance as Hirayama, which deservedly won Best Actor at Cannes, delicately embodies this bittersweet approach to life, and he seems capable of transforming even the smallest of actions into something mesmerising. 

The power of Perfect Days truly rests in its capacity to offer hope and joy amidst the endless cycles and repetitions present in the everyday.

There is an abundance of stillness and space throughout Perfect Days, but Hirayama’s careful routine is soon interrupted by the lives of others. His fellow toilet cleaner, Takeshi, operates as a chaotic and comedic force. Perpetually arriving late for work on his scooter, he’s lazy and unconcerned with cleaning toilets for a living. This is in stark contrast to Hirayama’s dedication, which brings dignity to a task many would look down on. Without meaning to, the older man soon becomes entangled in Takeshi’s endearing quest to impress his would-be girlfriend Aya. Similarly, Hirayama’s life is complicated by the arrival his niece, who has decided to run away from home and seek refuge with her uncle. 

Each encounter further reveals the depths of Hirayama’s inner life. His niece and Aya come to appreciate his way of seeing the world, until they too sense the wonder and enchantment present in the transience of things. Equally we bare witness to Hirayama’s loneliness, and the unspoken pain and angst that lurks beneath the surface of his solitary existence.

The power of Perfect Days truly rests in its capacity to offer hope and joy amidst the endless cycles and repetitions present in the everyday. As you fall into its rhythms, you feel the film begin to work a kind of magic on you, unassuming and gentle as it is, it offers stillness in a world of noise and movement. Hirayama has achieved a rare feat, a life outside of our current culture concerned with commodities and constant stimulation. He proposes instead an alternative way of being in the world. One with the possibility of a kind of serenity, achieved simply by paying attention to moments others would willingly ignore.

Perfect Days is now showing at Broadway Cinema.

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