Feb 22, 2024
Wim Wenders, Takuma Takasaki
Wim Wenders is having a year. Though his epic 3D documentary Anselm somehow regrettably missed out on a Best Documentary nomination from the Academy, his unhurried slice-of-life Perfect Days caught their attention.
Nominated for Best International Film, Wenders’s lovely drama tails Hirayama (Koji Yakusho, perfection) through about two weeks in his life. Hirayama doesn’t have a lot to say, but he misses nothing in his days driving from public restroom to public restroom with Tokyo Toilet written on the back of his pristine blue jumpsuit.
Tools in rubber-gloved hand, Hirayama is meticulous as he works. He has a routine that suits him—brings him joy, even—and Wenders cycles us through that routine day after day after day. At a full two hours, Perfect Days begs your indulgence with this montage of minutely changing events.
The cumulative effect is, at first, lulling. As days pass, some small change draws attention and we try to predict a plot—will this turn into a love story, will that create financial chaos, is a tragic backstory of abuse about to come to light?
Not the goal of this movie. The film actually began as a commissioned short film meant to celebrate Tokyo’s pristine public toilets. I swear to God. It blossomed from there into a lithe, meditative character study shouldered by an impeccable Yakusho.
Though there are moments in the film that feel orchestrated—today, this happens; today, this happens—but not one breath, smile or nod of Hirayama’s head betrays the fiction. His is a mainly solitary, nearly silent life that can be surmised as a middle-aged man’s intentional creation. Hirayama has left something behind, has stripped himself of something, and what remains is what he finds vital: work where you can see a result; floor to ceiling shelves of books; a tidy and enormous collection of cassette tapes; a room full of tiny plants taking root, thanks to his tender care.
You could fit Hirayama’s dialog on less than a single page, and there are times when his silence feels forced and almost comedic. But Yakusho’s brilliantly nuanced, heartbreakingly felt performance makes up for any flaws in the film. Wenders punctuates scenes with joyously on-the-nose song choices—minus the cassette hiss—and the final few singalong minutes showcase one actor’s transcendent work.