Perfect Days is the latest observational slice of life movie from revered German director Wim Wenders
With a career spanning over 50 years, Wim Wenders is one of the original proponents of slow cinema – or “less plot, more vibes” as some might say. His latest, Perfect Days, is his first film in the Japanese language and has been selected as Japan’s official Oscar entry.
Hirayama (Koji Yakusho) is a toilet cleaner in Tokyo. Living a simply, orderly life, his days consist of driving between Tokyo’s various public toilet blocks whilst listening to his collection of classic rock cassette tapes, taking his lunch breaks in the park amidst his beloved trees, and eating dinner at the same noodle counter every night.
He makes regular visits to the public bath house and the laundrette, and on Sundays treats himself to a new book and an evening meal at a restaurant with a charming chef. He takes pride in his work and seems content with his austere routine. Through a series of random encounters, we learn a little more about Hirayama’s past, though only a hint at that.
Perfect Days is a film that celebrates the little things in life, the simple, minute pleasures that add up to something more. Where so much other media would depict someone living Hirayama’s life as bored, frustrated or downright miserable; here we have a man who truly seems happy with nothing more than those little moments. Whether it’s finding the perfect song for the perfect moment, or capturing a photo as the light hits the trees just right; he finds the joy in the everyday and the feeling is infectious.
There is very little dialogue throughout the whole film, with Hirayama having nearly no lines until the final half hour – so it’s an extraordinary performance by Yakusho, who scooped the best actor prize at this year’s Cannes film festival. Whilst he’s clearly written as kind – and we see several examples of his kindness towards others throughout the story – that he is able to create such an endearing character who holds our interest all the way through with no dialogue is a real work of art.
Where Wenders’ cinematic worlds have often focused on desolate landscapes, the one he presents here is filled with surprising warmth, intercut artfully with some abstract black and white moments. Hirayama’s apartment, though plain, is stuffed with his neatly organised books, tapes and houseplants. It oozes love. Tokyo’s public toilets – Perfect Days teaches me – are also considerably nicer and more stylish than my own house. This is a world we want to spend time in, devoid of the usual crush of people and chaos we might imagine when we think of Tokyo.
It won’t be a film for everyone, literally nearly nothing happens in terms of plot – a few conversations about life and family hint at possible changes in the future – but nothing too dramatic. Yet it’s a film that creeps up on you, sweeping you along for an enjoyable and relaxing ride. It’s a kinder world, a simpler one, where all it takes for it to be a perfect day is for the sun to be shining and Lou Reed to be playing on the stereo. If we could all take a leaf out of Hirayama’s book and find the joy in everyday life, the world would be a much better place.
Perfect Days is screening as part of the BFI London Film Festival. It will be released by MUBI in the UK, with a release date expected in the new year