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Perfect Days

Updated: 5 days ago

Wim Wenders' ode to living the moment is a beautifully restrained poem



Wim Wenders is a director in constant fear of falling into complacency, from his beginnings in German New Wave cinema, to his shift to documentary filmmaking, and his flitting to create films in a variety of languages and cultures. His latest, is a curious reflection on the beauty and richness of pausing and enjoying life’s simplicity.

 

Perfect Days (2023) is set in Tokyo, following toilet janitor Hirayama (Koji Yakusho) as he goes about his routine days, enjoying the moments where he is scrubbing toilets, listening to his cassette tapes on his commute to work, taking in the sunlight breaking through trees on lunch break in the park, and more. His meticulously crafted daily routine is broken up by differing characters’ adventures butting into his life, creating a picaresque structure to the rather plotless film. Hirayama always takes these disruptions in stride, choosing to select elements that made him happy rather than focus on ones where he was denigrated or cheated on.

 

Perfect Days might seem as a saccharine life-lesson film on happiness, yet Wenders’ brilliance is in not preaching “stop and smell the roses,” but rather illustrating it with non-verbal cues. There is no sweeping soundtrack to manipulate viewers – although there is a fantastic diegetic song list – or exaggerated performances, the film is instead sprinkled with subtlety and restraint, allowing realization to trickle into you instead. This slow build-up of confidence and trust allows the final take of Hirayama’s face eliciting the film’s entire emotional journey to hit you with a dramatic weight you hadn’t realized gripped you.

 

Much like its main character, Perfect Days is an exercise in finding beauty by relishing the small details of quotidian life. The dedication that Wenders brings to the framing, coloring, and sound design of small gestures and movements, as simple as watering plants or brushing one’s teeth, is where Perfect Days garners the hypnotism that keeps viewers rooted. In the hands of a lesser director, Perfect Days would have leaned into the class commentary of how one doesn’t need money to be satisfied, or that happiness can be found all around oneself; Wenders chooses to show this slice of life story instead and have the actions speak organically for themselves, without nudging his audience into a particular school of thought. This rather neutral and observant directorial style, no doubt honed by his many documentaries, helps stave off any sense of pretentiousness of thematic agenda that lends an emotional authenticity to the core of Perfect Days.

 

Perfect Days would not work at all were it not for the casting of Yakusho in the lead role. Yakusho takes on an practically non-verbal role, yet conveys emotional intricacies with the simple crinkling of a smile or gentle exhale. The final take of the film, a long close-up of his face, is so striking not only for its sudden emotiveness compared with the rest of the restrained movie, but also due to Yakusho’s ability to curate every nerve and muscle in his face to transparently flit through a cosmos emotions, memories, and longings in mere seconds. His work is a career crowning achievement, and one that many acting students would do well to study.

 

In the end, Perfect Days is a quiet yet incredibly affecting film that shows beauty and happiness can be found living in the moment. Wenders’ fabulously restrained direction, beautifully subtle aesthetic, alongside a performer at the top of his game, makes Perfect Days a transcendent and profoundly enlightening watch.  

9.0/10

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About Young Critic

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I've been writing on different version of this website since February of 2013. I originally founded the website in a film-buff phase in high school, but it has since continued through college and into my adult life. Young Critic may be getting older, but the love and passion for film is forever young. 

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