Perfect Days – a must-see slice of real life

January 26, 2024
2 mins read
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8/10

Summary

Perfect Days FILM REVIEW

After winning several awards at a perfect rumination on imperfection, Perfect Days, makes it to our big screens. Reviewed by GARY STEEL.

Having endured the dire Family Romance, LLC, a 2019 “Is it real or is it bollocks?” Japanese drama by German director Werner Herzog, I was expecting fellow Teutonic Wim Wenders’ own Japanese feature to be an excruciatingly slow slice-of-Jap-life epic. And it kind of is, if you remove the word ‘excruciating’, and replace it with ‘hypnotically’.

Where Herzog’s film may well go down as being akin to his own Inland Empire (David Lynch’s terrible, terrible 2006 ‘thriller’), Wim Wenders never loses his footing in Perfect Days, a poetic rumination on the way the humdrum can contain elements of pure joy, and how a seemingly sad life can fit in moments of profound happiness.

For the first 20 minutes or so of the 2 hours and three minutes of Perfect Days, it feels as though the film is going to be an endless expression or ordinariness, not to mention repetition, as middle-aged toilet cleaner Hirayama (the brilliant K?ji Yakusho) tootles in his tiny van from one rather novel Japanese public facility to another, each day bookended with the seemingly voiceless chap reading some Faulkner under a naked bulb in his utilitarian flat.

 


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But it’s that very ordinariness that lets the light seep in. As we follow Hirayama we begin to understand the wondrous details that can arise in a life, and how his Zen-like approach to his job allows for countless meaningful moments, despite the fact that his job sees him perpetually shunned by society. There’s satisfaction as he ritually meets the day with a can of Boss coffee from the dispenser outside his run-down accommodation and attempts to capture the perfect photograph of the canopy of a tree during his lunchtime break. There’s joy in unexpected interactions, like finding a boy crying in one of his toilets and handing him back to his worried mother, or discovering that the young would-be girlfriend of his colleague loves the Patti Smith cassette tape (Horses) he’s playing in his van.

Because he’s simply there, he’s not impressing his ego on anyone, or providing a threat of any kind, he’s able to witness the dramas of others and provide some kind of solace without saying a word.

Later, Hirayama’s runaway young niece comes to stay, and we start to put a picture together of a genuinely kind man who has been through some unspoken tragedy and is unwilling to conform to the expected tortures of the general populace. Ultimately, we learn that he can talk, but is a man of few words.

In the last half of the movie, there are so many great scenes that it’s hard to encapsulate its emotional gravitas. One of them comes after Hirayama has experienced a particularly bad day. He’s been shaken off his normal repetitive course, buys some beers and a packet of cigarettes and attempts to smoke one, but coughs up a storm. He’s joined by a stranger – the former husband of the woman who owns a bar Hirayama frequents – who confesses that he’s dying of cancer, and they end up poignantly/hilariously playing with their own shadows. The last scene, which holds Hirayama’s gaze and heightened emotions for a whole song as he drives his van, is indescribably intense, and alone justifies Kakusho’s Best Actor Award at Cannes.

Ultimately, Perfect Days is neither depressing nor joyful, but strikes a satisfying, true-to-life balance between the various forces, and is a kind of meditation on the perfection of imperfection.

+ Perfect Days screens at independent cinemas from 25 January.  

Steel has been penning his pungent prose for 40 years for publications too numerous to mention, most of them consigned to the annals of history. He is Witchdoctor's Editor-In-Chief/Music and Film Editor. He has strong opinions and remains unrepentant. Steel's full bio can be found here

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