'Perfect Days' review: Wim Wenders finds beauty in the everyday in exquisite Japanese gratitude drama

‘Perfect Days’ review: Wim Wenders finds beauty in the everyday in exquisite Japanese gratitude drama

Having an extended closing shot of a character’s face has often been an effective way to illuminate whatever thoughts and feelings were going through their head, to resonate through the end credits and beyond. The device performed exceptionally well Call me by your name, Blessing AND Michael Clayton.

Wim Wenders concludes his eloquent and emotionally rich Japanese drama, perfect dayswith a shot like that, held close to the extraordinarily expressive face of Koji Yakusho as his character walks through Tokyo reflecting on the rewards and perhaps even the regrets of his life in the same spirit of openness and acceptance, embracing the sadness as much as the joy.

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perfect days

The bottom line

Ineffably adorable.

Place: Cannes Film Festival (Competition)
Launch: Koji Yakusho, Tokio Emoto, Arisa Nakano, Aoi Yamada, Yumi Aso, Sayuri Ishikawa, Tomokazu Miura, Min Tanaka
Director: Wim Wenders
ScreenwritersBy: Wim Wenders, Takuma Takasaki

2 hours 5 minutes

The song this decidedly analog man is listening to on his car tape recorder is a Nina Simone standard that has become one of the most overused songs in contemporary film. But she fits the scene so precisely and captures how the character moves through her little pocket of the world with such precision, it’s almost like you’re hearing the song for the first time.

Nearly four decades after walking in Ozu’s footsteps in the documentary Tokyo Ga, Wenders returns to the Japanese capital to shoot his best narrative feature film in years. Infused with a vivid sense of place, the film takes its cue from the Japanese word komorebiwhich depicts the shimmering play of light and shadow across the leaves of a tree, each flickering movement unique.

Around that modest flowering of nature, the director has crafted a film of deceptive simplicity, observing the minute details of a routine existence with such clarity, soul and empathy that it builds up a cumulative emotional power almost without you realizing it. It is also disarming in its absence of cynicism, unmistakably the work of a mature director who thinks long and hard about the things that give life meaning. Perhaps a solitary life more than anything else.

The life at the center of each frame – heightened in intimacy by the cozy 1.33:1 aspect ratio – is that of Hirayama, played by Yakusho with relatively few words but a bottomless pit of feeling. He has what appears to be the least likely job for the protagonist of a contemplative two-hour film: working for a private contractor who cleans toilets in public parks in the Shibuya district. The company’s unmistakable name, The Tokyo Toilet, is emblazoned in white on the back of Hirayama’s blue overalls.

The first noteworthy thing about this work are the actual bathrooms. These are not your ordinary public structures in most western countries, but architecturally distinctive structures which from the outside could almost pass for small temples or shrines. Which makes it fitting that Hirayama approaches his work with monastic discipline and painstaking dedication.

Unlike his lazy junior co-worker Takashi (Tokio Emoto), who arrives late and is usually too distracted by his phone to do a thorough job, Hirayama has a methodical system and an array of essential cleaning products and tools for all tasks. enclosed in his van. There’s something quite heartwarming about the way he promptly comes out and patiently stands whenever anyone needs to use the facilities while he’s working.

For most people, Hirayama is invisible. But one of the points of the film, written with great clarity and economy by Wenders and Takuma Takasaki, is that even the humblest and most invisible life can contain spiritual riches.

This aspect is immediately evident in the rousing opening sequence, in which Hirayama wakes at dawn to the sound of an old woman sweeping the streets with a birch broom outside her window. She quickly folds her futon and stacks her bedding neatly in a corner, brushes her teeth, shaves and trims her mustache, then misting the plants, taking a moment to sit back and smile at their progress. He smiles again as he walks out every morning and looks up at the sky.

This fascination for the most ordinary daily rituals inevitably recalls that of Chantal Akerman Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce, 1080 Brussels. The sense of a life stripped of clutter, reduced to the essentials in acts of both duty and pleasure, continues throughout Hirayama’s day.

He selects a cassette from his extensive collection of 60s and 70s rock to listen to in his van (allowing Wenders to flesh out the film with Lou Reed, The Rolling Stones, Otis Redding, The Animals, The Kinks, and more). Every day he lunches on the same bench in a temple garden, snapping a photograph of the same patch of light across the treetops with his analog camera. After work, he goes to the local sento bathhouse for a scrub and bath and dines at the same market stall.

Back home in the evening, the routine continues, ending with him reading a paperback he takes from the dollar shelf in a bookstore (in one of many nice touches of gentle humor, the clerk offers unsolicited opinions on his choice of authors: “Patricia Highsmith Knows All About Anxiety”). When Hirayama turns off his reading lamp and takes off his glasses to sleep, he dreams in black-and-white sequences that allude to a more complicated past life, fragments of it filtered through the leaves.

There is a reassuring aspect to the delicate rhythms of Hirayama’s day, which reveals subtle differences with each repetition. His direct interactions with other people are invariably acts of kindness and he treats everyone in the same spirit of generosity.

This also applies to the annoying Takashi, who in one funny scene convinces his older colleague to help him in his frustrated efforts to date the much cooler Amy (Aoi Yamada). The way Amy responds to Patti Smith’s album, Horsesand in particular, the song “Redondo Beach”, while Takashi barely pays attention to it, indicates that it will remain out of his reach.

While Emoto’s performance is a bit broad compared to the restraint of all the other cast members, the excitable Takashi serves to demonstrate that not everyone fits neatly into Hirayama’s orderly world.

When Hirayama’s routine is disrupted and his careful balance upset, particularly when he is forced to cover the work of two employees one day, we sense how seldom does he let moments of anger overwhelm him. His niece Niko’s (Arisa Nakano) sudden appearance after an argument with her mother initially requires some adjustment, but the scenes in which he engages her in his working day – first reluctantly, then happily – are captivating depictions of two generations. that connect.

The emotional pull of the film is never obvious, mostly sneaking up on you almost imperceptibly. Major exceptions, when Hirayama’s feelings are exposed, include a private moment between the owner of the restaurant he goes to on his day off, known as Mama (Sayuri Ishikawa), and her ex-husband (Tomokazu Miura), with who later shares a beer by the river. And an encounter with his estranged sister Keiko (Yumi Aso) when she comes to pick Niko home suggests the comfortable life and familial friction Hirayama has left behind, eliciting feelings of sadness and lost affection that remain with him.

The true reward of perfect daysinstead, it is the accumulation of tiny details, tenderly observed fragments of a life that by themselves seem irrelevant. When put together, they create a deeply moving and poetic account of the unexpected peace, harmony and contentment that one man worked hard and made decisions hard to achieve.