The IMDB description of Perfect Days reads: “A janitor in Japan drives between jobs listening to rock music.” Not exactly an exciting premise for a film, but that is mostly what happens in this surprisingly engaging film.  What the description leaves out is the poetic nature of the moments between and the quiet wonder of the main character.  German director Wim Wenders’ biggest hits Paris, Texas and (my personal favorite movie ever) Wings of Desire were made in the 80s, and most of  his well-known films since then have been Oscar nominated documentaries (Buena Vista Social Club, The Salt of the Earth, Pina) He  returns to the narrative world with a truly beautiful film that has earned him his fourth nomination, this time for

The main character is Hirayama (Kōji Yakusho, Tampopo, Babel), a middle-aged man who lives a solitary existence and follows a consistent routine that doesn’t include much social interaction. In fact, for much of the film, he doesn’t talk at all. The opening scenes follow him through his daily routine – waking, shaving, eating, driving to work with some great tunes. He does his job cleaning public toilets thoroughly and takes his lunch to a beautiful forest park to commune with and take a photo of the trees.  Hirayama is happy simply inhabiting and observing the world.

Woven into this ascetic narrative are small moments that offer the audience further glimpses into his life. Interactions with Takashi (Tokio Emoto) his love-lorn sidekick at work Takashi (Tokio Emoto), his dinner outings where it is clear he’s a welcomed regular, visits to drop off the film he’s shot and pick up another roll of film, then home to see what he captured. Visits to a bookstore and home to read. A relaxing soak at a public bath. The closest we get to knowing his previous history is when his daughter comes for a short visit. And yet by the end you feel you know Hirayama. 

With so little happening in the film, you’d think the audience could get bored. But Perfect Days is anything but boring. It’s funny, and sad, and uplifting. And it’s beautifully shot with a fabulous soundtrack of 70s and 80s music. And who knew that Tokyo had such NICE public bathrooms! (The film started out as a documentary project to celebrate Tokyo’s architect-designed toilets.)

Kōji Yakusho is what makes this film work. Wenders wrote the film with the actor in mind and I can’t imagine it with anyone else. His face is so expressive in such subtle and beautiful ways.  You cannot help but smile with him. And in one scene when he cries, it breaks your heart. This is one of the best films of 2023 and I highly recommend it.

In theaters now. 



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