Directed by: Wim Wenders
Written by: Wim Winders, Takuma Takasaki
Starring: Kōji Yakusho, Tokio Emoto, Arisa Nakano, Aoi Yamada, Yumi Asō, Sayuri Ishikawa
Released: March 28, 2024
Grade: B+

Perfect Days

Since their creation in 2007, the Asia Pacific Screen Awards have helped shine a light on the great cinema emanating from the region.  Winners of best picture have included Samson & Delilah, A Separation, Parasite, and Drive My Car.  Last year’s top prize recipient was the Japanese-German co-production Perfect Days, a film which premiered at Cannes and since earned a nod at the Academy Awards for Best International Feature Film (losing to The Zone of Interest).

I’ll describe it as a wacky cross between Kenny, Happy-Go-Lucky, and Groundhog Day.  Set in downtown Tokyo, it follows the day-to-day existence of a simple man named Hirayama (Yakusho).  He lives alone in a rundown flat and works as a public toilet cleaner.  Hirayama wakes up at dawn, brushes his teeth, grabs a coffee from a vending machine, then drives across town in a small blue van.  He’s armed with an array of cleaning products and a jangling chain of keys which he uses to access storerooms.

I don’t think I’ve seen a film which features so many toilets!  As strange as it may sound, I think it’s a positive for the image of Japan because we see the artistic design which has gone into several of their public restrooms.  Another interesting plot is the pride and passion which Hirayama has for his work.  There is no cutting of corners.  He scrubs every toilet, sink and mirror until they are shiny and spotless.  He even uses a small mirror to help see behind corners where his head can’t reach.

I’ve always liked the line “the world is what we make of it.”  Hirayama’s profession may not be glamorous but he’s found, for the most part, an inner peace which allows him to value life’s beauties.  During his lunch breaks, he sits quietly in a shady park, eats a sandwich, and admires the trees above.  While driving around, he listens to upbeat Western music on scratchy cassette tapes.  Of an evening, he visits a small café where he enjoys a simple meal while watching baseball on television.  His happiness asks us, as the audience, to reflect on our own life and whether we are appreciating the many positives we often take for granted.

He’s not a big talker but over the course of the film, Hirayama interacts with a small number of people including an annoying co-worker, a restaurant manager, and his teenage niece.  These scenes allow us to see a beyond Hirayama’s smiling exterior and show not everything is as “happy” as it appears.  They trigger moments of deliberation about his work, his status as a bachelor, and the estranged relationship he has with certain family members.

I’d have preferred the pace to be a touch quicker, but I still admire what acclaimed German Wim Wenders (Wings of Desire, Buena Vista Social Club) has achieved here.  Perfect Days is a chill, mellow filmgoing experience with a great leading character.