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Review: Perfect Days

German director Wim Wenders longs to go back to an analog era in his meditative portrait of a middle-aged man who cleans toilets in his new film Perfect Days. Hirayama (Koji Yakusho) goes about his days in Tokyo sticking to a methodical routine. Throughout the course of the film, small but impactful interruptions in his schedule reveal a deep history. Perfect Days is a character study about the comfort and pain of solitary life. The film is carried by a wonderfully rich performance by Yakusho.

Perfect Days is a laid-back film that takes its time setting up the daily routines of its protagonist Hiryama. His days are governed by rituals and meticulous attention to his job. He wakes up each day without an alarm, letting his neighbor's morning sweeping wake him up. He folds up his mattress neatly, gets ready, grabs coffee from a vending machine, and gets his day started. The details of each step of this process are repeated yet shortened to emphasize the things that begin to interrupt his day.

It is Hirayma's peaceful approach to cleaning that defines him the most early on. He has a serene satisfaction in cleaning each of Tokyo's unique public bathrooms. His chatty younger colleague Takashi (Tokio Emoto) is the exact opposite, brash, impatient and pining for a girl. Hirayama exists on a plane separate from all that. He listens to old cassette tapes of Patti Smith and Lou Reed, he takes photos of trees, and he occasionally visits a bookstore. While his life seems simple, he seems full of joy.

If this doesn't exactly sound riveting, it isn't. For long parts of the film we just follow the routine of each day. However, Wenders keeps revealing small details about Hirayama's past that peak our interest. The film is heavily structured around these so-called perfect days but each one has unique moments in it and it reminds us that even when life feels dull, there are opportunities for things to be shaken up. Enter Niko (Arisa Nakano), the daughter of his estranged sister.

Niko's arrival is the biggest disruption in the film. Hirayama is shaken by her presence as she pulls out details from his past. Wenders avoids any big reveal here but we do get a sense of the deliberate purpose behind Hirayama's rigidly structured life. It is a fascinating slow reveal.

If I have any major criticisms of the film, it might be that the overall tone is a little precious and perhaps out of touch with the lower class. There is an adoration for Hirayama here that removes the idea that he could ever dream of more. It can come off sometimes as a pretentious artist lamenting on how lucky someone is to have such a basic life. It only sours a few things in the film because at the core of the film is such a deeply moving performance by Yakusho.



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