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Perfect Days (Film Review)

3 min read

DCM Bitters End

' latest film, Perfect Days makes a virtue of repetition, crafting one of the most quietly compelling films of the last few years. delivers a beautifully humane performance which earned him the Best Actor award at Cannes. Following a run of documentaries, Perfect Days is at once an outlier in the director's work and entirely characteristic of his signature style. The director's penchant for minimalist dialogue, striking visuals and chilly detachment masking genuine emotion, proves uniquely suited to this slice of life Japanese drama.

Set in central Tokyo, Perfect Days follows Hirayama (Koji Yakusho) a stoic toilet cleaner who maintains some of the most beautifully designed toilets ever committed to film. His home is sparse, minimalist with only his books and potted plants for company. He has a methodical, almost zen-like approach to his cleaning, taking pride in his work, and despite being flatly ignored by everyone who uses the facilities, he seems content with his quiet, solitary existence. It's only when his estranged niece (Arisa Nakano) pays him an unexpected visit that we get the hint, just a tiniest hint, that he is not entirely fulfilled.

Yakusho has made a career playing decent, dignified characters in films like 13 Assassins, Babel, and Shall We Dansu? Kiyoshi Kurosawa even played on this perceived integrity when casting him in the incredible thriller Cure. Similarly to Harry Dean Stanton's iconic performance in Wenders' Paris, Texas, Yakusho gives a remarkable, largely non-verbal performance in Perfect Days, predominantly making use of his doleful, expressive eyes, and enigmatic facial expressions.

The evocative, retro soundtrack puts Wes Anderson to shame, featuring artists like Patti Smith, The Kinks and The Animals. The title Perfect Days is especially fitting, echoing Lou Reed's song of the same name. Ostensibly a song about a happy, if mundane day, it is tinged with melancholy, and this contrast proves profoundly moving. Similarly, while Hirayama is outwardly content with his life, there are subtle hints of past trauma. This only serves to enrich Yakusho's performance though, allowing the audience to draw their own conclusions.

Perfect Days has a more episodic structure than you might expect, especially since the trailer places his relationship with his niece front and centre. It's more a slice of life drama than a conventional narrative, and this, combined with the meditative pace, might be off-putting to audiences more used to a traditional three act narrative. However, those who embrace this structure will find it immensely rewarding. It's a beautifully observed, life-affirming film, reminiscent of Jim Jarmusch's Paterson in its attempts to find beauty and meaning in the minutiae of existence

The wonderfully ambiguous ending recalls the final scene of Another Round, in that whether it is uplifting or devastating lies entirely with the audience's interpretation. Yakusho's performance in that final scene, captured in an unbroken close-up, is a masterclass of subtle, emotive acting. It's a scene that rivals Bob Hoskins' performance at the end of The Long Good Friday, albeit creating vastly different tones.

Perfect Days is a life-affirming film that lingers in the memory long after the credits have rolled. Wenders' unique blending of visual poetry, understated performances and existential themes contribute to create one of the first great films of the year. However you interpret the film, Wenders' latest offering is a testament to the thought provoking, profoundly moving power of cinema.

Perfect Days will be in cinemas in the UK and Ireland on 23 February 2024