July 22, 2024

PERFECT DAYS (JAPANESE) (2023) – A beautifully crafted lesson on the appreciation of life

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Rating: ⭐⭐⭐ 1/2

Perfect Days is one of the five foreign movies recently nominated for the Academy Awards for Best International Feature Film. Even though this is a Japanese film it has a non-Japanese as its director, the famed German filmmaker, Wim Wenders! Wim Wenders is perhaps best known for his arthouse films in the 1980’s such as Paris, Texas (1984) which won the Palme d’Or in Cannes, and Wings of Desire (1987) which won him the Best Director award at Cannes and often considered his greatest success. This latest offering was again duly recognised in last year’s Cannes with a win for its main star, Koji Yakusho, for Best Actor and a nomination for the Palme d’Or (it lost to France’s “Anatomy of a Fall”).

Perfect Days has a very unusual lead character. Koji Yakusho plays Hirayama, a toilet cleaner in Tokyo! That alone made me curious as to how a movie can be about a toilet cleaner! Right from the start, Perfect Days has the makings of an arthouse movie through its unconventional style and plot. The film has a 4:3 aspect ratio which focuses on the characters while keeping the landscape and background secondary. The narrative style which keeps dialouge to a minimum provides a subtle challenge for Wim Wenders to tell the story by mainly relying on the images. It helps that he has the talents of Koji Yakusho to play the lead as he is more than capable to tell a story without relying on speaking much. This is apparent from the beginning as the camera follows Hirayama’s typical work day from the moment he gets up and does his toilet cleaning until the end of the day where he unwinds in in the nearby temple, local bar and cafe where he takes his dinner. All this unfolds with hardly any dialouge spoken. This goes on for awhile as the film takes it time to get us acquainted with Hirayama’s pesona. In fact, it may even seem repetitive and leading nowhere. However, it is through this unhurried route that we get to appreciate life as seen through the eyes of our protagonist.

At the end of the day, this is a movie about a simple man who finds pleasures in the things around him as he goes through what appears to be the same boring routine everyday. Hirayama has naturally mastered the ability to live life for the moment. Stopping to smell the flowers so to speak. He recognises the disappointments that comes with life but accepts these as part of the whole. Koji Yakusho sums this entire theme up brilliantly in the final scene just through his facial expressions. His gives performance that transcends what we are normally used to expect, in a restrained, understated elegance. Koji fully deserves the Best Actor award from Cannes.

Whether or not Perfect Days wins the Oscar for Best International Feature later this year is not important. What’s more important is for us to be able to appreciate Wim Wenders’ vision and his reminder to us all the importance to create our own Perfect Days.

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