Film Review: Wim Wenders' Perfect Days | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Perfect Days

Studio: Neon
Director: Wim Wenders

Oct 16, 2023
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The first hour of Wim Wenders’ Perfect Days–one of the acclaimed German director’s two films released this year–is excellent, centered around its protagonist’s repeated actions and small moments of levity to unlock key aspects of his persona. Then, with the snap of a finger–or with the simple introduction of a new character–everything begins to fall apart. Introducing an oddly linear plotline within the confines of a broader character study is a tough task. Unfortunately, Perfect Days lacks the narrative rhythm and fluidity necessary to pull it off.

Set in Tokyo, Perfect Days follows Hirayama (Kōji Yakusho), a toilet cleaner with a strict daily routine. Every morning, he wakes up to the sound of a street cleaner, waters his plants, buys a coffee from the vending machine outside his apartment, and gets into his truck. Throughout the day, he travels around Tokyo, cleaning the city’s public toilets. He eats lunch in the same park and takes a photo of the leaves above him while eating. After working more, he goes to the bathhouse, gets dinner at the same restaurant, reads for a bit, and goes to bed.

The film’s first half rarely strays from this narrative. But, as the film moves forward, little aspects of Hirayama’s routine change. He begins to converse more with his eccentric coworker. He starts playing tic-tac-toe against an anonymous opponent who leaves a slip of paper in one of his bathrooms. He becomes more intrigued by a man he sees in the park, who moves in odd patterns or pretends to be a tree. While these moments clearly rupture the plot, they are small enough in scope that they effectively bolster Wenders’ study of Hirayama’s character.

Then, during its second half, Perfect Days starts to lean more heavily into more defined, longer-lasting narrative beats. The switch begins when Hirayama’s long-lost niece, Niko (Arisa Nakano), appears at his door. Hirayama hasn’t seen her in years–it takes a couple moments for him to recognize her–but suddenly, that’s what the film becomes about. From this point on, the film nearly abandons its emphasis on quiet repetitions for a series of conversations between people that highlight Hirayama’s character and past experiences. These conversations aren’t fundamentally weak. Wenders’ and Takuma Takasaki’s script is delicate and refined enough to make their quotes and key moments resonate deeply. But, with such a pronounced narrative, the film’s gimmick begins to reveal itself–as the quest for eliciting emotion becomes a little too forced and, as a result, a lot less impactful.

The contrast between Perfect Days’ two narrative approaches complicates the film’s pacing and tone. The film’s first half is purposefully slow but never unintentional. It’s constantly fascinating to spot the differences between Hirayama’s days and each distinction imparts key ideas about how we make beauty out of the mundane. Adopting a more stereotypical narrative, especially out of the blue, doesn’t complicate the film’s pacing but slows it down. There’s no longer a need to search for the film’s themes; They’re often spelled out directly within the film’s dialogue. Plus, most of the themes covered during these conversations have already been implied earlier in the film, making the story feel aimless as well.

Regardless, Perfect Days is anchored by Yakusho’s excellent performance. It’s a demanding performance, built almost entirely on physical expressions and quiet displays of emotion. Since there’s such minimal dialogue, it takes a certain level of composure to make each line seem convincing, warranted, and necessary to the story. Throughout the film, Yakusho sinks into his character with remarkable ease, helping the film’s emotional punches land even when its story falls flat.

Author rating: 5.5/10

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