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‘Perfect Days’ review: Wim Wenders finds beauty in the everyday in beautiful Japanese drama about gratitude


Doing an extended closing shot on a character’s face has often been an effective way to illuminate all the thoughts and feelings going through their heads, to make them resonate through the credits and even beyond. The device worked exceptionally well Call me by your name, Blessing And Michael Clayton.

Wim Wenders concludes his eloquent and emotionally rich Japanese drama, Perfect dayswith such a shot, the extraordinarily expressive face of Koji Yakusho held tight as his character drives around Tokyo contemplating the rewards and perhaps also the regrets of his life with the same spirit of openness and acceptance, embracing the sadness as much as the joy.

Perfect days

It comes down to

Unspeakably sweet.

Location: Cannes Film Festival (competition)
Form: Koji Yakusho, Tokio Emoto, Arisa Nakano, Aoi Yamada, Yumi Aso, Sayuri Ishikawa, Tomokazu Miura, Min Tanaka
Director: Wim Wenders
Screenwriters: Wim Wenders, Takuma Takasaki

2 hours 5 minutes

The song this resolutely analog man listens to on his car cassette player is a Nina Simone standard that has become one of the most used songs in contemporary movies. But it fits the scene so precisely, capturing the way the character moves through his small part of the world with such accuracy that it almost feels like hearing the song for the first time.

Almost four decades after she followed in Ozu’s footsteps in the documentary Tokyo-GaWenders returns to the Japanese capital to make his best narrative feature film in years. Enriched with a vivid sense of place, the film takes its cue from the Japanese word comorebidescribing the shimmering play of light and shadow through the leaves of a tree, each flickering movement unique.

Surrounding that humble bloom of nature, the director has crafted a film of deceptive simplicity, observing the small details of a routine existence with such clarity, zest and empathy that they build cumulative emotional strength almost without you it notices. It’s also disarming in its absence of cynicism, undeniably the work of a mature filmmaker who thinks long and hard about the things that make life meaningful. Maybe more than a lonely life.

The life at the center of each frame – enhanced in intimacy by the cozy 1.33:1 aspect ratio – is that of Hirayama, played by Yakusho with relatively few words but a bottomless well of feeling. He has what seems to be the least likely job for the protagonist of a two-hour contemplative film: he works for a private contractor, cleaning toilets in public parks in the Shibuya district. The company’s unambiguous name, The Tokyo Toilet, is written in white on the back of Hirayama’s blue overalls.

The first thing you notice about this track is the actual toilets. These are not your average public facilities in most Western countries, but architecturally distinctive structures that from the outside could almost pass for small temples or shrines. It is fitting, therefore, that Hirayama approach his work with monastic discipline and scrupulous devotion.

Unlike his lazy junior colleague Takashi (Tokyo Emoto), who is late and usually too preoccupied with his phone to do his job thoroughly, Hirayama has a methodical system and a range of products and essential cleaning tools for all tasks that require he has at home. van. There’s something very touching about the way he promptly steps out and stands patiently when someone needs the facilities while he’s at work.

Hirayama is invisible to most people. But one of the points of the film, written with great clarity and economy by Wenders and Takuma Takasaki, is that even the humblest, invisible life can contain spiritual riches.

That aspect is immediately apparent in the gripping opening scene, in which Hirayama wakes up at dawn to the sound of an old woman sweeping the streets with a birch broom outside his window. He quickly folds his futon and neatly stacks his bedding in a corner, brushes his teeth, shaves and trims his mustache, then moistens his plants, taking a moment to sit back and smile at their progress. He smiles again as he steps out each morning and looks at the sky.

This fascination with the most ordinary daily rituals inevitably brings to mind those of Chantal Akerman Jeanne Dielman, Handelskaai 23, 1080 Brussels. The feeling of a life stripped of clutter, reduced to the essentials in acts of both duty and pleasure, remains with Hirayama throughout the day.

He chooses a cassette from his extensive collection of ’60s and ’70s rock to listen to in his van (allowing Wenders to sift through the film featuring Lou Reed, The Rolling Stones, Otis Redding, The Animals, The Kinks, and more) . He eats his lunch every day on the same bench in a temple garden and takes a picture of the same spot of light through the treetops with his analog camera. After work, he goes to the local Sento bathhouse to scrub and soak and eats dinner at the same food bar in the market.

Back home in the evening, the routine continues, ending with him reading a paperback he retrieves from the dollar rack in a bookstore (in one of many nice touches of gentle humour, the store clerk offers unsolicited opinions on his choice of authors: “Patricia Highsmith knows all about fear”). When Hirayama turns off his reading lamp and takes off his glasses to sleep, he dreams in black and white sequences that hint at a more complicated past life, fragments of it filtered through leaves.

There’s a soothing aspect to the gentle rhythms of Hirayama’s day, revealing subtle differences with every repetition. His direct interactions with other people are invariably acts of kindness, and he treats everyone with the same spirit of generosity.

That even applies to the annoying Takashi, who in a funny scene persuades his older colleague to help with his frustrated attempts to date the much cooler Amy (Aoi Yamada). The Way Amy Reacts To Patti Smith’s Album, Horsesand the song “Redondo Beach” in particular, while Takashi hardly pays any attention to it, indicates that she will remain out of his reach.

While Emoto’s performance is a bit broad compared to the restraint of everyone else in the cast, the excited Takashi serves to show that not everyone fits smoothly into Hirayama’s orderly world.

When Hirayama’s routine is disrupted and the careful balance is upset, especially when he has to take over the work of two employees one day, we feel how rarely he allows moments of anger to come over him. The sudden appearance of his niece Niko (Arisa Nakano) after an argument with her mother initially takes some adjustment, but scenes in which he – at first reluctantly and then happily – tucks her into his working day are captivating depictions of two generations living with each other. are connected to each other.

The emotional appeal of the film is never apparent, usually creeping up on you almost imperceptibly. The main exceptions, when Hirayama’s feelings are exposed, include a private moment between the owner of the restaurant he goes to on his day off, known as Mama (Sayuri Ishikawa), and her ex-husband (Tomokazu Miura), with whom he later shares a beer by the river. And meeting his estranged sister Keiko (Yumi Aso) when she comes to take Niko home suggests the affluent life and family strife left behind by Hirayama, while sparking feelings of sadness and lost affection that remain with him.

The real reward of Perfect dayshowever, is the accumulation of small details, tenderly observed fragments of a life that seem insignificant in themselves. Together they form a poetic, deeply moving account of the unexpected peace, harmony and contentment for which one man worked hard and made difficult decisions.

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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