‘Perfect Days’ Review — Wim Wenders Brings Beauty to the Little Things

Sep 19, 2023

Perfect Days, the latest film from the constantly-surprising filmmaker Wim Wenders, is largely about cleaning toilets. It’s also one of the best films of the year. In a career that has attempted everything from powerful love stories that transcend incredible distances (Wings of Desire, Paris, Texas), masterful documentaries (Buena Vista Social Club, Pina), and all matter of cinematic experiments, Perfect Days might be Wenders’ most lovely and vital work in decades, centered around a remarkably restrained and Cannes-winning performances from Koji Yakusho.

Every morning, Hirayama (Yakusho) wakes up and reads, gets ready for the day, goes outside with a smile on his face, grabs a coffee, and goes out to his job cleaning public toilets around Tokyo. Hirayama’s routine rarely changes from day to day, and he seems content and almost meditative in how simply his life plays out. Sometimes, his coworker might show up late (if he even shows up at all), or he might find a surprise note hidden in a stall, but Hirayama likes his structured life.

‘Perfect Days’ Is a Celebration of the Little Things
Image via TIFF

Hirayama spends his time reading cheap paperback books, listening to Lou Reed, Patti Smith, or The Animals from his extensive cassette collection, taking photos of trees while on his lunch break, and going to his favorite restaurant, located underground at a place where the employees always thank him for his service. When life throws surprises in Hirayama’s way, he’s fine with going with the flow, offering help when he can—even if it interrupts his patterns. When Hirayama’s niece, Niko (Arisa Nakano) visits her uncle on an unannounced visit, we slowly start to learn more about Hirayama, and the family and life he tends to avoid.

Wenders finds the joy in the little things in life, as we see through Hirayama’s eyes. Playing just the right song on his way to work, or finding a stray plant that he can add to his collection at home, or truly wonderful accomplishments within the everyday. Hirayama has an attention to detail and an eye for beauty that it’s remarkable watching him just live out his life. He always starts his day with a smile on his face, and it’s hard not to also smile alongside him, as we watch his methodical day, and the love he has for the situation he’s made for himself. It might not be much narratively, but for Hirayama and the viewer, it’s more than enough. Even if Wenders (and co-writer Takuma Takasaki) decided to not explore Hirayama and who he is, Perfect Days would still be a beautiful reflection of the small wins that make like so great amongst everything else.

‘Perfect Days’ Is a Perfect Performance from Koji Yakusho
Image via Neon

This all ties together because of Yakusho’s performance, which is so naturalistic in its approach that it’s often hard to forget that this isn’t another documentary from Wenders of a man working for The Tokyo Toilet company. There’s a light behind Yakusho’s eyes that never goes out, a man who is dedicated to his job and truly loves what he does and how it fits into the rest of his routine. This feels like a life that has been curated to perfection for Yakusho, and even looking around his apartment, filled with plants found on his journeys and the shelves packed with books and cassettes, we can tell that he finds peace and happiness in his meager hobbies. Like Hirayama’s life, Perfect Days thrives on the methodical patterns of repetition, yet with Yakusho at the front of this story, it’s impossible to ever get bored with watching him do the same things over and over. If there was any question that Yakusho was giving a remarkable performance, the film’s final moments show a level of emotion that’s been under the surface the whole time that makes this entire exercise worthwhile.

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Perfect Days marks Wenders’ first Japanese narrative feature, and as we’ve seen in 1985’s Tokyo-Ga, Wenders has a deep love for the culture and the films that have come from this area—particularly the work of Yasujiro Ozu. It’s hard not to think of Ozu when watching Wenders’ contemplative style here. The slowness of the everyday that remains captivating feels reminiscent of films like Tokyo Story, Late Spring, and Good Morning. It’s the perfect approach for the story Wenders and Takasaki are telling that feels definitively Wenders, as well as an homage to the films of great Japanese directors.

There’s also an admiration for Tokyo itself and its beauty seeping throughout every frame of Perfect Days. Even the bathrooms that Hirayama cleans are so impressive, so remarkable that Wenders makes sure to make them the focal point of the frame. Wenders shows every new location with adoration, from Hirayama’s small apartment to the cramped stores where he buys his new cassettes and the parks where he has his meager lunch while taking photos. Much like how Hirayama appreciates every aspect of his day, Wenders seems to appreciate these simple pleasures just as much as his star does.

Perfect Days is the type of rare film that warms your heart, crafting a wonderful world that is basic, but gorgeous in its approach. Wenders and Takasaki create a relatively straightforward story, but imbue it with such comfort and exquisite appreciation that it makes Hirayama’s loves and life feel grandiose and impactful. Yakusho’s subdued character rarely shows emotion, yet the affection for his life shines through in every moment. Perfect Days is another masterwork from Wenders, a recognition of life’s curiosities, the small details that make it all worthwhile, and finding beauty in the overlooked things in life.

Rating: A-

The Big Picture

Perfect Days, directed by Wim Wenders, is a heartwarming film about finding joy in the little things in life, as seen through the eyes of the main character, Hirayama. Koji Yakusho delivers a perfect performance as Hirayama, portraying a man who finds peace and happiness in his routine and meager hobbies. The film pays homage to Japanese cinema, particularly the work of Yasujiro Ozu, and showcases Tokyo’s beauty through stunning visuals and attention to detail. Overall, Perfect Days is a masterwork that celebrates life’s small pleasures and the beauty in the everyday.

Perfect Days played at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival.

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