‘Perfect Days’ Offers Peak Wim Wenders Storytelling

Celebrated director draws humanity from humble, day-to-day moments

Wim Wenders’ “Perfect Days” is the portrait of a life that might seem small and simple, but is full of insight, discipline, and steady rewards.

It stars Koji Yakusho, in a performance that won him Best Actor at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival, as Hirayama, a middle-aged man whose daily life is a steady routine of work and well-earned idle time. Hirayama wakes every morning, alone in his small apartment, where he readies himself for another day of working in Tokyo.

PERFECT DAYS | Official Trailer | Now Streaming

Hirayama cleans public restrooms, both porta-a-potties and brick-and-mortar bathrooms. He does this cheerfully, visibly works very hard and takes pride in doing his job extremely well.

He concludes his days with a thorough cleansing, a homecooked meal, a good book and a good night’s sleep. We watch as he repeats this routine and finds moments to savor in between his work engagements.

An unexpected and welcome story thread kicks off the second act.

Here’s something you probably haven’t seen before: a deeply moving, insightful and life-affirming movie about a man who cleans toilets.

You read that right.

If Wenders’ film has a cinematic link to another work, then its Jim Jarmusch’s “Paterson” (2016), which also establishes the daily repetition of its protagonist, then shows us the profound discoveries he makes when he steps outside of his established workload.

Paterson – Official US Trailer | Amazon Studios

Both films begin in a way that avoids narrative, invites boredom from a fidgety audience who will grow impatient by watching a character work for a living and then surprises us when the steady workflow comes to a halt.

Rather than try to create an international identity or political expression for Tokyo, Wenders simply allows the city to become a character and loom over its central character.

Wenders has done this before – think of Berlin in “Wings of Desire” (1987), the Australian outback in “Until the End of the World” (1991), Los Angeles in “The End of Violence” (1997) or Houston in “Paris, Texas” (1984).

Wenders is one of the greatest of all travelogue filmmakers, whose narratives are less about the accumulative outcome of the central figures and more about their physical and soulful journey within.

Despite being about a man who cleans toilets, both Wenders and his co-screenwriter Takuma Takasaki avoid any and all “bathroom” humor or temptation to go lowbrow. In place of obvious, groan-inducing humor are moments when Hirayama encounters a small, cheerful child or when he sits, eats his lunch, and notes the motion of shadows, sunshine and blowing leaves in harmony.

Wenders’ film is unhurried and, as my description indicated, contemplative but, remarkably, manages to never bore or condescend to its audience. Some may understandably wish the narrative would get going quicker and that the second act reveal would arrive sooner.

Playing Takashi, Hirayama’s best friend, is Tokio Emoto, who is a little much in the role. The generation gap and contrast of energy levels between them is the point, but Hirayama’s story works best when we observe how initially isolated he is.

Wenders has made so many of my favorite films, like “Until the End of the World” (1991), “Paris Texas” (1984), “Wings of Desire” (1987), “The American Friend” (1977) and “Faraway, So Close!” (1993) but even his smaller, lesser-known works offers rich character studies and visionary moments.

Wenders makes movies that are deeply compassionate character journeys, often road movies or odysseys in which the destination isn’t a plot point but a simple act of human connection.

If “Perfect Days” is your first Wim Wenders movie, then you’ll see immediately why his gorgeous, contemplative, and rewarding films are some of the best around.

Four Stars

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