Review: ‘Perfect Days’ has a simple premise but profound meaning

Wim Wenders is a German writer, director, and producer who has been making movies and short films since the late 1960s. After a quiet decade, Wenders is out with a new film, Perfect DaysWenders really hit a stride in the 1980s. In 1984, he made a movie that many consider among the greatest arthouse films of all time, Paris, Texas. Although Wenders hasn’t made as many full-length films this decade as he has in the prior ones, Perfect Days is his return for this festival and awards season. 

A simple premise that presents profound themes

Perfect Days is a Japanese language film. It is a simple story of a Japanese man (Kōji Yakusho) in Tokyo who cleans toilets for a living. Despite the considerable time we spend watching him doing exactly that, as you’d expect with a Wenders film, the film’s themes are incredibly profound. From our priorities and what makes humans happy, to living a simple life and getting older as the world around us changes, if you’re as big of a fan of this type of cinema as I am, there’s little doubt you’ll have tears streaming down your cheeks by the finale. General audiences might experience some disconnect with the messages this film sends. Still, many from the arthouse cinephile and critics crowd will have a perfect day at the cinemas with Perfect Days.

The story of Perfect Days

There are mild spoilers ahead for the film Perfect Days.

Perfect Days begins with a morning routine as we watch Hirayama (Kōji Yakusho) get out of bed and fold his blankets, and as we follow him around, we watch the intricacies of his life, down to the minutest details. Speaking of which, some of these things we see performed many times; the details of this man’s life are what we’re here to examine. Most of the things he does, his interactions, and these intricacies allow us plenty of time to reflect on the simplicities of his life and the wondrous beauty that can be found therein. That is if you’re willing to look for it. 

We watch as he puts up his reading glasses and book from the night before on shelves adorned with paperback books and archaic audio cassette tapes. There is no TV in Hirayama’s simple apartment. He goes downstairs, puts some toothpaste on his toothbrush, and begins to brush his teeth. Then Hirayama trims his salt and pepper mustache and brings a water spray bottle back upstairs for ten to twelve small trees he has in separate pots in a little makeshift garden. He gets dressed, and we observe him putting on his blue, one-piece, Carhartt-style uniform with the large words “The Tokyo Toilet” printed on the back. 

Hirayama and the joy of being alive another day

One of the few peculiarities I latched onto immediately upon watching Perfect Days is that as he opens his front door and steps outside, he looks up at the sky for a few moments, which he looks up quite frequently in the film. Still, he grins, breathes in the morning air, and experiences the joy of being alive another day with breath in his lungs and life in his veins.

Hirayama walks over to a vending machine, slips some coins in, and retrieves a cold coffee drink before getting into his work van and beginning his drive to work. Along the drive, he observes the buildings, people, and views that his commute offers, but after a few minutes, he pops a cassette tape into his stereo, and we begin to hear The Animals playing The House Of The Rising Sun. All of this may sound incredibly mundane, and after we watch his routine repeatedly with slight differences here and there for three days straight, the word monotonous might also come to mind. 

Wim Wenders is an arthouse auteur with a fulfilled vision

And to say that the film is slower-paced is an unfair but utterly accurate assessment. Perfect Days qualifies as a “slice of life” type of movie, but an appreciation for what Wenders is serving up is needed for this film not to seem repetitive and drag for its two-hour runtime. As the film enters its second act, some of the people in Hirayama’s life, like his niece, coworker, his coworker’s girlfriend, and even a man he meets who used to be married to a woman who runs a nearby restaurant, prove to be the source of fascination and make for some absolutely riveting cinema. But by the finale of Perfect Days, for those tuned into the wavelength the film is transmitting on, some of the moments hit like a hammer and completely overwhelm the viewer, leaving one to only watch, mouth agape, at the wonder of cinema on display.

Wim Wenders is undoubtedly a master of the arthouse film; his direction is skillful and purposeful, and his ability to craft the film he desired to make is clearly evident. The screenplay, crafted along with Takuma Takasaki, is terribly light on dialogue, and in fact, there are extended periods when there’s no dialogue. Hiramaya, the protagonist, doesn’t say anything, but the moments of impact are poignant and reverberate throughout the film like an old Van Morrison song. 

Editing and camerawork help build Perfect Days

The editing and the angles that the camerawork utilized helped break up the film so that I was never bored. However, because the subject matter is what it is, some audiences will be bored stiff while watching Perfect Days. I say this as someone who fell asleep in the theatre watching the racing film Gran Turismo, adapted from the video game series of the same name: I was never bored during Perfect Days. Make of that what you will. 

The film’s leading actor, Yakusho, did some impressive work despite the reserved and subtle performance, and he does get one Oscar-worthy scene before the film ends. As far as the themes covered, there’s a real sense of appreciation and gratitude on display. Our protagonist has an unending joy and thankfulness for each day he’s able to be alive, which is truly a wonderful way to experience life. 

It almost makes one envious because, as humans, we’re so often crippled by our own worries, concerns, sadnesses, envy, and various mental handicaps, not all of which we have complete control over. But here, this man, while fictional, is portrayed as having very little to his name, and yet he has everything he wants; his contentment makes him the most enviable man alive. Thinking about being jealous of a man who cleans toilets all day and has virtually nothing is a message in Perfect Days that resonated with me deeply.

Final thoughts on Perfect Days 

This movie, its subject matter, and its themes, like so many things in life, may simply come down to the old adage, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” That being said, this film wasn’t quite Perfect, but these Days you just don’t find many films with the simplicity and yet meaningful insights like the one I pondered, “Where does happiness come from?” after I finished watching Perfect Days.

Perfect Days is now in theaters.

Perfect Days is now in theaters. Learn more about it at the official Neon website for the film. It is also the official contender for Japan for Best International Feature in the 96th Academy Awards. As of December 15th, Perfect Days made the Oscar shortlist.

Have you watched the film yet? What did you think? Leave a comment below or send us a message on X @MoviesWeTexted.

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