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Showcasing a simple life punctuated by intentional moments of joy, “Perfect Days” strives to show that life is what you make it and that seeing beautiful things is a choice. In Wim Wender’s work, Hirayama (Koji Yakusho) takes pride in his work as a toilet cleaner and his economical lifestyle, filling his free time with art and remembrances of things that made him smile. A quiet film, “Perfect Days” expertly avoids being overly sentimental in favor of becoming a carefully reasoned argument.
The plot largely repeats Hirayama’s days of getting ready, going to work, going to the bathhouse, eating, and reading with minor variations. What should be boring at first glance is enriched by the hypnotizing methodical nature of Hirayama’s work and his attention to detail. From the exact way he cleans surfaces to his watching of passerby and to his gleeful documentation of anything he finds worth photographing, the film commands viewers to soak in the details and enjoy the meandering plot. Its sense of structure makes it completely satisfying.
It is also clear that “Perfect Days” intends to speak to a Western audience. The minimal dialogue of the quiet, thoughtful Hirayama makes the plot easy to follow in any language. More than that, one of the first encounters in the film takes place in English, as a tourist asks for help understanding how the toilets work, and Hirayama spends his free time listening to American music and even begins the film finishing a book by William Faulkner. The sense of global culture in Hirayama’s varied reading choices expands his small-scale romanticisation, showing his desire to appreciate all kinds of art and not just the pockets of nature he finds on his way.
The film glories in a quiet, diegetic sound, and while in other films this would be grating, here it is electrifying. The moments of true music feel remarkable because they are earned by being brought about by Hirayama himself. The film softens the feeling of walking through a city, creating a picture that exudes gentleness.
In a different film, Hirayama would be the stereotype of a gruff man. Though he has certainly known sadness and has a troubled relationship with his sister, he is simply happy with a simple life. In the modern capitalist hellscape, he successfully carves out a meaningful life, and one that is incredibly necessary, even if it is often overlooked. Yakusho’s understated acting is truly the backbone of this story, imbuing the stripped down plot with true feeling.
A visit from his niece Niko (Arisa Nakano) reveals how carefully and intentionally implemented Hirayama’s worldview has to be to work. With his focus on his repetitive every day and dismissal of technology, young Niko shows that this approach will not be sustainable in the future as cutting edge technology becomes more entrenched in the everyday. The question of whether his happiness comes from delusion is a poignant one, and one to which the film gives space in an aching final act.
Though understated throughout, the film’s use of details is wonderful. Nothing is left to fall by the wayside, and its use of callbacks kept it brilliantly subtle. In keeping with its lowkey, authentic atmosphere, the lack of fanfare makes the world feel rich and makes the film worth watching more than once.
Though it is a little longer than it needs to be, “Perfect Days” is an impressive and beautiful film about the wonder in the world as it is. It considers various tropes relating to this type of film and its protagonist, but takes an inventive approach by choosing to be affirming. Yakusho’s performance grounds the film, and the narrative’s choice to accompany him so closely feels truly personal. In “Perfect Days,” no tragic backstory is needed. Though Hirayama has clearly known sadness and pain, he chooses to find beauty in the details and the choices he makes every day.
“Perfect Days” is a breath of fresh air.
—Staff writer Millie Mae Healy can be reached at email@example.com.
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