Wim Wenders’ Perfect Days is an emotionally insightful wonder. Progressing beyond the existential considerations of his earlier work, the veteran filmmaker arrives at a place that invites contemplation on the simplest joys of daily life. Much of it is wordless and relies on the performance of its star, Kōji Yakusho (The Eel, Babel), who won the Best Actor Prize at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival. What is particularly effective is how the symbiotic relationship between actor and director reveals the character’s deep spiritual bond with his universe.
Working together, they fashion a transcendent experience out of the most mundane details of daily life. Wenders’ use of music is instrumental in the film, communicating what the character’s face cannot: rock songs effectively punctuate the emotional beats within this story. In this delicate portrait of an introvert’s world, Wenders presents a complex viewpoint that is heartening and optimistic. This is his best narrative feature in years.
Hirayama (Yakusho) is content with his simple life in Tokyo. He works as a public toilet cleaner, a detail-oriented job that is entirely suited to the regimented rhythms of his life. In his spare time, he follows similar patterns, reading books, listening to music, and taking pictures of his favourite tree during his lunch break. Basically, his is an artists’ life, perhaps not as a professional but it is genuinely passionate. Other people dart in and out of his solitary life. Each leaves a different imprint yet all impact him in the subtlest of ways.
While the film functions mainly as a portrait, Wenders does appear to have a certain structural purpose in mind, a simple trajectory that is interrupted by dramatic (and sometimes comic) beats. It’s like Michael Snow’s Wavelength in this regard, as it moves through time with no apparent end in sight but with sudden unexpected interruptions. Wenders takes this idea and opens it out into narrative form, with a narrative trajectory based mainly on his main character’s life.
Perfect Days is a deeply felt character study in which much of the drama is reflected in the actor’s face. Yakusho gives a virtuoso performance, one that telegraphs so many conflicting and profound emotions. It is awe-inspiring to watch them flit across his face as Wenders keeps him in close up. This is where much of the action really is, and it proves to be a deeply complex world.
This strategy mingles with Wenders’ reliance on the flickering lights and shadows of both the character’s waking life and dreams. Here is where Wenders’s aesthetic explores the Japanese concept of komorebi (based on the Japanese word for sunlight). The filmmaker guides us to consider how Hirayama actually looks beyond his immediate surroundings to watch the interplay of light and shadow and to incorporate this into his world view. It’s a delicate investigation that unearths the most sensitively effective results.
Perfect Days proves to be a dramatic slice of life, as carefully handled as any observational documentary but as poetic as any great arthouse film. The brilliance of the film lies in the ways that Wenders unravels the details of his lead character’s life with such measured but fine precision.
This introvert is an enigma in today’s world, and there are certain mysteries behind that visage which are just barely evident throughout Perfect Days. Some are revealed and some are not. Hirayama’s routine life becomes very familiar yet enticingly strange, sometimes even at the same time. As a result, there is a quiet grace to the film that is surprisingly alluring. Perfect Days embodies a deceptive simplicity: this gentle film has a way of keeping you on the edge of your seat.
Perfect Days had its Canadian Premiere at TIFF 2023. Head here for more coverage from this year’s festival.