What a wonderful day it is to enjoy the pleasures and wonders of public toilets, right? Life is what you make it after all. That aphorism is very much in the heart of Perfect Days (same title used in Japan), which is director-writer Wim Wenders' modest drama set in the lives and parts of Japan less seen on the big screen. In the film, we are introduced to Kōji Yakusho's character Hirayama who's a toilet cleaner in Tokyo living a rather quiet, simple life every day. Hirayama has a predictable structure to his life that includes a passion for older music that he listens to on cassettes, reading books every night before sleeping and photographing trees. Being very proud of and precise in his work too, his life gets slightly shaken up by his lively co-worker Takashi (Emoto Tokio), Takashi's date Aya (Yamada Aoi) and runaway niece Niko (Nakano Arisa) as we get to know more about Hirayama's past and present.
The way into the movie, mostly led by Wenders' visual language, is somewhat unassuming and does have you questioning the direction and intention through a judgemental lens, figuratively speaking, and then literally through DoP Franz Lustig's warm, intimate close-ups. Routine is a key part in that setup since we follow Hirayama for a few days that go exactly as he seemingly wants them to go. Demonstrating that routine patiently is Toni Froschhammer's editing, which sadly is often a bit too patient in fact because the cutting and similar frames become fairly tedious when we aren't yet quite connected with Hirayama. The editing finds its rhythm after the first 30 minutes, being in service of its characters, although it does start spinning its wheels again toward the end.
You do understand the meaning of Hirayama's routine when you see how exact he is when working and later when he gets sidetracked. This is a person who genuinely wants to have a good impact on people he encounters, whether or not they notice his efforts or even dare to look at him. If he has done the job well, helped those in need, left a space in a better state than it was and enriched his mind through art or beauty, that would be a perfect day. Enough of those perfect days would therefore mean that he's living a meaningful life. Wenders and co-writer Takasaki Takuma use simplicity and subtle building blocks, as well as a soundtrack that perfectly fits the character, in their storytelling to create a wave of emotional reverberations that not only makes you understand why and how Hirayama has arrived at this place but also why it feels substantial.
Of course, that catharsis works because Yakusho is able to portray the character's reverberation so delicately whilst adding even a little bit of comedic timing and quiet observing into the mix. The actor wears all of the baggage and personal choices like they were his favourite shirt—a late scene between Hirayama and his sister Keiko (Yumi Asō) breaks down a lot of that pressure especially—so it's not a surprise that Wenders was compelled to have Yakusho's face as the last image, even though the editing again hurts its effectiveness. Fortunately tomorrow is another new day and you can try again to make the most of it. Hirayama definitely will try to do that.
Smileys: Kōji Yakusho, characterisation, soundtrack
Frowneys: Some issues with editing