Perfect Days

 •   •  ,  • Dir.

Reviewed by   |  Jan 31, 2024

Not being well-versed in all things Wim Wenders, I was surprised that his latest film would be a homage to his favourite director, Yasujiro Ozu. Not that Ozu isn’t revered by the film-making community worldwide, but it is a style that often seems quintessentially Japanese and I often think that Hirokazu Koreeda is the nearest to an heir apparent. Yet Wenders has caught the attention with his latest offering, ‘Perfect Days’, a low-key drama that doesn’t so much wear its influences on its sleeve more holds a big neon sign over it saying ‘We Love Ozu’.

The story follows relentlessly cheerful middle-aged man Hirayama as he travels throughout Tokyo cleaning the public toilets. His preparation for each day and devotion to his task baffles his young workmate, Takashi, who sees the job as a means to an end. Yet, despite living a simple existence, Hirayama has a dignity that isn’t easy to dismiss and conscientiously carries on what many would consider to be a task beneath them. Into this peaceful life comes, briefly, his niece who has run away from her mother and Hirayama is reminded of the larger world he has left behind.

‘Perfect Days’ starts as it means to go on, with long, thoughtful shots of the mundane every day life of its lead character. And it pretty much continues along the same lines for the next two hours. A hard slog for some, but a beautiful appreciation of the ordinary for many, a look at how day-to-day life can have a worth all of its own. It’s the antithesis to not only Hollywood blockbusters, but also European arthouse cinema where drama always appears to be at the core. Ozu’s work is often a ferocious wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing, happily appearing passive and quiet while great insights are contained within. While Wenders utilises this approach, he is much more parsimonious with information than Ozu, taking the meditative serenity to another level.

While ‘Perfect Days’ fails to balance incident and inaction with the consummate skill of Ozu, there is much to savour here. It never veers towards near-parody, the way lesser film-makers than Wenders might fall prey to, and he gives just enough to keep the viewer interested. Even during the numerous scenes of Hirayama’s daily routine – something that could quickly be tedious – there is plenty in the subtle detail peppered throughout. Yakusho is excellent as the main protagonist and gives him an admirable integrity that is fascinating. As a former part-time toilet cleaner myself (and not nearly the futuristic Tokyo variety shown here), I enjoyed the reminder that someone’s menial role in life does not sum up their entire character. Wenders has created a film that will not suit all tastes, but rewards attention and commitment to the screen. And you imagine that Ozu would be proud of the works that have been inspired by his legacy. Despite my complete lack of interest in the Academy Awards, I kind of hope Wenders will be waving the gold statuette around and uttering the great name Yasujiro Ozu.

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