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Film Review: PERFECT DAYS (2023): Wim Wenders’ Latest is Well Made and Offers an Intriguing Slice of Simplicity

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Koji Yakusho Arisa Nakano Perfect Days

Perfect Days Review

Perfect Days (2023) Film Review, a movie directed by Wim Wenders, written by Takuma Takasaki and Wim Wenders and starring Koji Yakusho, Tokio Emoto, Arisa Nakano, Miyako Tanaka, Bunmei Harada, Min Tanaka and Masahiro Komoto.

Wim Wenders’ latest drama is a movie full of good intentions and genuine sincerity. It’s also the latest in a string of international movies that lack substantial plots. Nevertheless, Wenders’ picture is a slice of life character-driven drama called Perfect Days and stars Koji Yakusho in the type of performance that any actor would love to play. Yakusho’s role is that of Hirayama who is a toilet cleaner by trade. He is an older gentleman who hardly speaks during the first forty-five minutes or so of the picture. I didn’t clock the time during which Hirayama doesn’t speak in the film but it’s a feat of tremendous acting by Yakusho to draw the viewer into his character. It’s a capable performance that evolves into something much bigger as the later scenes in the movie arise. You can almost picture executives in Hollywood casting the American version of this Japanese movie as they watch it. Yes, Perfect Days is the perfect candidate for an American remake and I expect it to happen one day soon.

Perfect Days begins with some dragged out scenes of Hirayama cleaning toilets. They’re not as redundant as the extended cooking scenes in A Taste of Things but there are only so many ways to clean a bathroom. A man comes into the bathroom while Hirayama’s cleaning and Hirayama waits patiently for the guy to finish. Then, eventually, a less ambitious and much younger colleague of Hirayama’s, Takashi (Tokio Emoto) arrives with a girl he’s trying to date. Takashi needs to get his hands on some much needed money to go out with this young woman. In Hirayama’s van are old music cassette tapes featuring songs from the 1970’s and 1980’s. Takashi brings them into a record store and prices them. It turns out they’re worth a few bucks which could greatly benefit Takashi in his attempt to woo the girl of his dreams.

The introduction of the character of Hirayama’s niece, Niko (Arisa Nakano) soon suggests that the pair will unexpectedly bond with each other and they do. They hang out together in the daytime and, over the course of several days, get to experience some of the better things life has to offer. Yakusho and Nakano have a good on-screen rapport together. There is some genuinely intriguing character development here that is revealed through the interaction of this pair. In a heartbreaking moment late in the film, Niko’s mom confirms that Hirayama is actually cleaning toilets for a living. It is what it is.

One of the most ambitious scenes of Perfect Days comes very late. It involves Hirayama and a key character following each other’s shadows in the evening. It’s a scene that may have ended up on the cutting room floor in another movie but since this is a Wenders film, it’s no surprise that it ended up making it into the final cut. Wenders’ quirkiness is always intact in his films and this movie is no exception. While Wenders has done better work in the past, one can argue that a film like Perfect Days still says a lot about the human condition and the will to live even under some less than satisfying circumstances. Despite the ugliness of Hirayama’s job, there is a lot of beauty in the world and the music he listens to is evidence that life has plenty of things worth living for.

Wenders could have done a little more with this picture. I felt that for a director of Wenders’ caliber, it was rather slight but, at the same time, the movie is commandeered by Yakusho’s very complex, multi-faceted performance. You don’t need much of a plot to develop this character who is older and wiser and knows his place in the world, for better or worse. The very last sequences of Perfect Days will also break the viewer’s heart. A close-up of Hirayama allows the viewer to feel the emotions the character is experiencing which are so evident based on Yakusho’s expressive facial expressions.

Perfect Days is at its best when it focuses on the bond between Hirayama and Niko. Those moments feel genuine and make the viewer feel for both of the characters at hand. Meanwhile, some of the scenes with Emoto’s Takashi feel tacked-on for comic relief and are, at times, rather lame. Perhaps they are here to remind one of the differences between the two male characters. For example, the immaturity Takashi possesses seems to be juxtaposed to the much older Hiayama’s seriousness and tremendous discipline. In any event, the movie could have used a stronger plot to drive home the characterizations.

But, Wenders always makes films which are fascinating curiosity pieces and they usually don’t leave the audience without many thought-provoking themes to chew on. Perfect Days is no exception. This is the type of movie you would want to watch twice if not for the overbearing toilet cleaning scenes in the film. It’s still a movie that’s certainly worthwhile and I’ll probably want to see some of it again. Much like Wenders’ other movies, which always offer more than meets the eye, Perfect Days is a unique drama with a lot on its mind.

Rating: 7.5/10

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