Credit: MUBI

The simplicity of the everyday: a Perfect Days review

By Caitlin MacDonald

Wim Wenders’ introspective feature was nominated for Best International feature film at the Oscars this year.

How many bad days have you had? Probably quite a lot. You’re probably thinking about a recent bad day right now. Okay, on the reverse of that – how many good days have you had? And going even further, how many perfect days have you had? You probably can’t recall any right now, but you know for sure you’ve had at least one. Wim Wenders’ spellbinding Perfect Days proposes a very radical idea: every day is perfect.

Now consider this. A janitor in the Shibuya ward of Tokyo spends his days like this: He wakes up, checks on his houseplants, gets ready for work, cleans toilets, and returns home- alone. On his lunch break, he eats in silence in a park, observing quietly the way the trees sway and interact with each other. He snaps a picture of it on his analogue camera and soundlessly returns to his sandwich.

On the surface, your knee-jerk reaction might be to think- what a sad existence, that poor man! But au contraire! In an age where we put ourselves (and others) under constant surveillance – is this smoothie bowl Instagramable enough? Is the way I’m crossing the road aesthetic? – Perfect Days finds a beautiful tempo in its disregard for social media and really, a lot of modern technology. Most notably, our janitor, Hirayama (Koji Yakusho) exclusively uses cassette tapes (much to the chagrin of his younger employee who implores him to sell them for a quick buck). When Hirayama’s niece comes to visit and plays a tape, she asks if the song will be on Spotify. Hirayama, confused, admits he doesn’t know because he’s never even heard of that store. His niece only laughs.

There’s a watercolour blend of the past and future within Perfect Days, even disregarding Hirayama as an individual. As a janitor, we watch his routine – going from sleek public toilet to sleek public toilet – a subtle display of the technological marvels of Japan. The entrance to the park where Hirayama takes his lunch each day is marked with a torii, as he enters a Shinto shrine. Despite all the advancements, this simplicity remains. It is perhaps why Hirayama frequents the shrine so much, why he is so fond of this microcosm of tranquillity in an otherwise bustling metropolis.  

Circling back to this janitor – our reserved protagonist if you haven’t already guessed. Is he lonely? He is alone, yes, and indeed most of the film is spent with him alone, as we watch him go through the motions of his everyday life. But his life is not. He cares deeply for his subordinate, he has his usual order memorised by a sports bar near a subway station, he gives his niece a hug so tight and meaningful it’s hard to watch without a few tears prickling up. At another bar he frequents, he accidentally intrudes on a private moment between the hostess and a man he does not recognise, embracing one another. Later, the man approaches Hirayama and admits he has cancer. The man laments; he wanted to apologise to his ex-wife before he passes and asks for a cigarette, to which Hirayama obliges. They smoke and drink warm beer together in silence before playing a game of shadow tag, both men huffing and puffing as they attempt to tag the other. The smile on Hirayama’s face is unmissable, like the way the sun passes through the trees.

Koji Yakusho’s performance, one of quiet reflection and attention-to-detail, is one for the ages, a tour-de-force of isolation, loneliness, purpose and meaning. Backed by a ‘golden oldie’ soundtrack and complemented well with shots of everyday, commuting Tokyo, Perfect Days is heartbreakingly poignant, reminding us that, yes, everyday can be perfect. You just have to know where to look.

As Lou Reed sings in both the trailer and film itself – it’s such a perfect day, I’m glad I spent it with you…


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