A tender, moving, and accessible character study, iconic German filmmaker Wim Wenders latest film, Perfect Days, spotlights internal longing in modern-day Japan and the film is about a bathroom custodian who lives his life through the daily routines of cleaning toilets, listening to 60s rock bands, and enjoying the small pleasures in life. Sublimely crafted by Wenders from a script he co-wrote with Takuma Takasaki, this Japanese crowd-pleaser was just nominated for the Best International Feature Film at this year’s Academy Awards, which is now the first film not directed by a Japanese filmmaker to be nominated as the Japanese entry.
With nearly six decades of onset experience, filmmaker veteran Wenders balances the wry with melancholy that is expressed with a deeply felt tenor. It’s a film of delicate repetitions that becomes a film about the delicacy of the mundane that is so abetted with each of us as we live through the motion’s day by day. Shot in the city of Tokyo, the film, with its gorgeous skyscrapers, further underlines the artistry and grace Wenders still holds at age 78.
Outsiders and loners have always come easy for Wenders. Dating back to the late Harry Dean Stanton’s drifter in Paris, Texas, or Bruno Ganz’s ailing man in The American Friend, Perfect Days plays on these elements, but it’s about the joys of ordinary existence. Whether it is waking up to the same sight or enjoying the same can of soda each morning, there is a gaze that Wenders captures. A gaze of ordinary simplicity that only filmmakers like Jim Jarmusch, Kelly Reichardt, and Tsai Ming-liang have come akin to.
In Wender’s latest, the loner protagonist is a custodian named Hirayama (Kôji Yakusho). We follow Hirayama each morning as he wakes up each morning and gets ready for work. His routines involve putting on a large blue sanitation suit and draping his white towel around his neck. He stops at the vending machine and drinks his beverage. We follow Hirayama as he drives through the streets of Tokyo with his van, stopping from one public restroom to the next. He takes great care of the sinks and cleans various toilets, and he uses a small mirror to see off angles under the toilet bowl.
Hirayama’s days are routine but are never monotonous. He often listens to a variety of different types of music on a cassette tape that has tracks from The Velvet Underground, Patti Smith, the Rolling Stones, the Kinks, Lou Reed, and Nina Simone as he drives in delight. He also has a passion for photography, in which he takes a photo of a low angle of a tree where the sun pours through the branches. He is also an avid reader, and his bedroom is surrounded by great literature. He reads a book before bed each night. In many ways, the film holds the rhythms of Jarmusch’s Paterson or even Ghost Dog: The Way of Samurai, but just without the swords and gunplay.
Of course, Hirayama’s routines are thrown off balance after his niece Niko (Arisa Nakano) shows up for a visit. Niko, of course, is more modern than Hirayama, in which she explains to him what Spotify is, as Hirayama is more drawn into vintage possessions and years for a more analog world. It’s one of the many vignettes where we see Hirayama interacting with people throughout his everyday life. We somehow get exchanges with Hirayama’s younger co-worker (Tokio Emoto), and Niko’s mother and Hirayama’s estranged sister make a surprise visit in which she begrudges the kind of work he does. Aside from that, the film stays away from too much plot and exposition. It’s more observational in a way as we explore Hirayama’s solace in the everyday humdrum. But the mundane here is not only lush but enjoyable and never dull or boring.
Wender’s latest is his third production, which was shot in Japan. His other two were documentaries: the 1985 documentary Tokyo, GA, which was about Japanese filmmaker legend Yasujirō Ozu; and the 1989 Notebook on Cities and Clothing, where Wenders interviewed Japanese fashion designer Yohi Yamamoto about his creative process. Perfect Days showcases Japan as a second home for Wenders, and it never feels like he’s an outsider. While the film does border between the melancholy and the maudlin, it is still a tremendous character study: moving, warm, and told with sincerity. Whenever Koji Yakusho drives his van or cleans a toilet with precision, you are unexpectedly drawn in due to the film’s high level of sincere character depth.
PERFECT DAYS opens in limited theaters Wednesday, February 7th. It opens in metro Detroit at the Novi Emagine Theater on Thursday, February 22nd.