Perfect Days (2023)

This Cannes film festival awardee and Academy award nominated film which also won Best Actor at Cannes for Koji Yakusho is about a simple man living a simple life, which is so rare these days

4/18/20246 min read

Koji Yakusho in Wim Wenders' 'Perfect Days'
Koji Yakusho in Wim Wenders' 'Perfect Days'

Japanese, 124 mins, 2023

Director: Wim Wenders

Cast: Koji Yakusho, Tokio Emoto, Aoi Yamada, Arisa Nakano, Sayuri Ishikawa, Yumi Aso

Awards: Won Prize of the Ecumenical Jury and Best Actor (Koji Yakusho) and Nominated for Palme d’Or, Cannes Film Festival, 2023; Won, Best Film, Asia Pacific Screen Awards, 2023; Nominated for Best International Feature Film, Academy Awards, 2023; Won, Best Actor, Asian Film Awards, 2024; Won Best Director and Best Actor, Japan Academy Film Prize, 2024

A simple film about a simple man leading a very simple regulated lifestyle is how one would summarize ‘Perfect Days’. Every day, Hirayama (Koji Yakusho) gets up at dawn, dresses up in his cleaner’s overall, gets his gear together sips a canned drink and drives in his van to the toilets he is assigned to clean – Hirayama works as a toilet cleaner with a company contracted to clean public toilets in Shibuya Locality in Tokyo. While driving, he listens to music on tape recorder which plays cassettes like in old days. He has a great collection of casettes.

He has his lunch of sandwiches in a public garden looking at trees and photographing sun coming through tree leaves using his old, small, point and shoot automatic camera. When he finishes work, he takes bath at a community bathroom. He comes back home changes his uniform, gets into casual clothes and rides a bicycle to a particular bar run by “Mama” (Sayuri Ishikawa) who treats him as her valued customer and then has a dinner at a particular small eatery in mall where too he is served with affection and respect. He retires at night choosing to sleep while reading a book (by William Faulkner, Patricia Highsmith, etc.) from the collection he has, which is sizeable. This routine is followed scrupulously by Hirayama, day in and day out.

His fellow worker, Takashi (Tokio Emoto) is a young careless man who often reports late for work, doesn’t think much of his job and is eyeing a girl, Aya (Aoi Yamada) who works at a girls’ bar. One day Aya comes where the duo is cleaning toilets. Takashi wants to go with her but his scooter conks off so he pleads with Hirayama to lend him his van. Soon, we see Takashi, Aya and Hirayama together in Hirayama’s van with Hirayama sitting uncomfortably with his gear of cleaning equipment at back and young lovers in front. Aya takes liking to his music and listens to tapes during the journey. She gets off at her workplace without knowing that Takashi has slipped one of the cassettes in her bag.

Strapped for cash, Takashi talks Hirayama into going into a cassette shop to get some of his cassettes appraised since old analog technology is coming back these days. When Takashi discovers how valuable they are, he urges Hirayama to sell some of his tapes, however Hirayama refuses and gives Takashi some money as he is broke and wants to take out Aya. Later, Hirayama is forced to sell one of his tapes to fill up the fuel tank of his van. Few days later, Aya catches up with Hirayama to return the tape that Takashi had slipped in her bag. She requests him to let her listen to the song once again in his van. Hirayama agrees and after the song ends, she gives him a good bye kiss startling Hirayama completely.

One day when Hirayama comes back to his home at night he discovers his niece Niko (Arisa Nakano) waiting for him. Niko is Hirayama’s wealthy sister, Keiko’s (Yumi Aso) daughter. Apparently she has faught with her mother and come back to stay with Hirayama. Hirayama lets her sleep at her place and adjusts himself to sleep on ground floor. Next morning, Niko requests her uncle to let her accompany him to work. Hirayama agrees and both leave in his van. Throughout the day, Hirayama cleans the toilets and Niko accompanies him. While they are together, Niko tells Hirayama that her mother often says that he lives in a different world than theirs. Hirayam doesn't react much. The routine continues over nest two days after which Hirayama’s sister, Keiko visits him to pick up her daughter. She tells him that their father’s dementia has worsened and asks whether Hirayama will visit him in the nursing home. She adds that he doesn’t recognize anyone now and may not behave the way he did before. Hirayama refuses politely but cries profusely after his sister leaves with Niko.

Next day, his co-worker Takashi quits abruptly and Hirayama is forced to cover up for him. He retires fully tired that night and finds a new girl in place of Takashi next day. After work he visits his regular bar but sees ‘Mama’ embracing somebody through half open door and leaves hurriedly without entering inside. However, he is noticed by both Mama and the man. It turns out that the man is Mama’s ex-husband who is now suffering from cancer and has come to his wife for reconciliation. He tracks Hirayama down near riverbank where Hirayama is sipping canned drink. He tells the story and asks Hirayama to look after his wife. Hirayama blurts out that their relationship is not like that but the man keeps insisting. Both share drink and to lighten the mood, Hirayama asks the man to play shadow tag with him. Both play for few minutes and take leave.

Next day Hirayama is back to his usual self with the same work he enjoys every day. While driving to work listening to ‘Feeling good’ song we see a spectrum of emotions on his face. Frankly, this part alone would have won Koji Yakusho the ‘Best Actor’ award at Cannes he won. He has played the role of a toilet cleaner wholoves his job with such perfection that one enjoys seeing him on screen even though throughout the film there is not a single sequence which doesnot feature him- he is constantly there in front, yet it is not boring. I was reminded of Satyajit Rays films from India who used to make such films. Now a days nobody makes such films which focuses on only one character tracking the minutest details of his daily routine and showing it aesthetically.

The soundtrack of the film is again very different featuring english as well as Japanese tracks. The character of Hirayama listens to these on his old casette tape player installed in his van signifying his nostalgic love for tapes. The film is shot in minimalist 4:3 format and is a result of collaboration between Wim Wenders who was invited by Koji Yanai to observe the Tokyo Toilet Project. The project comprised of public toilets in 17 locations which were designed by 16 creators who were chosen from around the world. Wim Wenders was expected to take a look at it and make a series of short films showcasing the uniqueness of these toilets. However, when he collaborated with writer Takuma Takasaki, what came out was this full length feature film. The film takes you away from the busy and chaotic world of today and puts you in a calmer and orderly but small world to give you peace and tranquility.

About the Director, Wim Wenders

Born in August 1945, in Düsseldorf, Germany, into a traditional catholic family, Wim Wenders is a renowned film director celebrated for his unique cinematic style and profound storytelling. After graduating from high school in Oberhausen, he went to study medicine at University of Freiburg (1963-64). But he dropped that course and joined to study Philosophy at University of Dusseldorf (1964-65) , dropped again and went to Paris to study Painting. However, he could not pass the entrance test and joined as an engraver at Johnny Friedlaender’s studio in Montparnasse. Here he developed interest in films and saw numerous films. He then returned to Germany in 1967 and joined Hochschule für Fernsehen und Film München (University of Television and Film Munich) and the Hochschule für bildende Künste Hamburg (Hamburg University of Fine Arts), where he developed his passion and skills for filmmaking.

Wenders' debut feature film, 'Summer in the City' (1970), marked the beginning of his illustrious career. However, it was his 1974 film "Alice in the Cities" that garnered international attention and established him as a prominent figure in the world of cinema. This film, along with subsequent works like ‘Kings of the Road’ (1976) and ‘The American Friend’ (1977), showcased his distinctive visual style and thematic depth, earning critical acclaim and paving the way for his future success.

Throughout his career, Wim Wenders has received numerous accolades and awards at prestigious film festivals worldwide. Notable among these are the Cannes Film Festival, where he won the Palme d'Or for ‘Paris, Texas’ in 1984, and the Venice Film Festival, where he received the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement in 1982. His contributions to cinema have been recognized with awards such as the European Film Award for Best Director and the Silver Bear for Best Director at the Berlin International Film Festival.

Wenders' filmography is marked by a diverse range of captivating works, including ‘Wings of Desire’ (1987), ‘Faraway, So Close!’ (1993), ‘The Buena Vista Social Club’ (1999), and ‘Pina’ (2011), a documentary exploring the life and work of choreographer Pina Bausch. His films often explore themes of identity, human connection, and the search for meaning, captivating audiences with their poetic storytelling and visual mastery. Wim Wenders' enduring impact on cinema continues to inspire filmmakers and audiences alike, solidifying his legacy as a visionary director.