A Japanese Man Lives Life in "Perfect Days"

Perfect Days

Director: Wim Wenders
Starring: Kōji Yakusho
Studio: A24

Genre(s): Drama
Rated: PG (For some language, partial nudity and smoking)

“Perfect Days” opens with a man waking up in the morning. He folds his bed, waters his plants, buys his favorite coffee, and goes to work cleaning toilets. The second day, he does this exact same routine. We will follow this man living his life for about a week. By the end of the film we will not only have spent two hours in the shoes of a life we normally would be unaware of, but our main protagonist will have learned a few things about his own life as well. Despite being a Japanese film, the movie has been directed by German filmmaker Wim Wenders. This shows a great deal of trust from the Japanese industry in putting a foreigner in charge of directing a film for their country. 

The fact that they have submitted the film as their selection for Best International Feature also shows how much they respect the final result. Wim Wenders is an acclaimed filmmaker that us “snooty critics” love to praise and whose films tend to bore the average viewer. As I watched the movie, engrossed by what I was witnessing, my wife poked my arm and said “this is boring.” I suspect a lot of people will have a similar reaction. This isn’t a movie that is “about something;” this is a movie that portrays “how something is.” 

Hirayama is a simple man with a simple job: he cleans toilets. He seems to take pride in what he does. His vehicle is stuffed with supplies and he is meticulous about his responsibilities. His younger, less dedicated co-worker asks him why he puts so much effort into his job when “[the toilets] are just going to get dirty again anyway.” To this, Hirayama scoffs and gets back to work. He is a man of few words and is dedicated to his routine. As the week goes on small things will interrupt said routine. A young girl who is dating his co-worker falls in love with his cassette tapes and shyly asks if she can listen to them one day. 

He finds a piece of paper with the start of a tic-tac-toe game. Though he considers tossing it in the trash at first, he puts it back with his turn written down. This small activity will be one of the highlights of his day for the week, which can be considered touching or sad depending on who you are. The biggest wrench in life will end up being the sudden appearance of his niece Niko, who has run away from home. It has been so many years since he’s seen her and he doesn't recognize her at first. It is with these scenes where we learn more about his past life. While nothing is outright stated, through visual cues and small comments made here and there, we get a sense of what Hirayama’s life was like before he started cleaning toilets. 

Scenes like this are likely why the Japanese studio trusted Wim Wenders with the film; Wenders tends to make films that are observational in nature. Sometimes there is lots of dialog, most of the time there is little dialog. In films like “Pina,” “Wings of Desire,” and “Faraway, So Close,” Wenders meditated on life and the meaning of living it happily. He does so again here, asking the same questions in a different culture. For those looking for an obvious central conflict, “Perfect Days” may seem like one of the many innocuous pictures Hirayama takes throughout the week. Take a step back and let the understated mood of the movie sweep over you, and you will find that beneath the silence lies a film that has much to say about our search for happiness.