[Miami GEMS 2023] PERFECT DAYS -- A Contemplative Film About Taking Stock of Your Life and Pride In Your Job
Review by Dan Skip Allen
There are some films that catch you by surprise, and that’s the case with Perfect Days for me. I can't believe how incredibly relatable this film is to my life. It's pretty amazing how similar the paths of the main character, Hirayama (Koji Yakusho), and myself are regarding my job of twenty years. Director Wim Wenders set out to make a PSA about public toilets in Japan, and ended up making a masterpiece of cinema instead.
Hirayama is a simple man who lives a simple life. He pretty much has the same routine every day. He wakes up to the sound of a guy sweeping the street, trims his mustache, brushes his teeth, gets dressed, and heads off to work. He listens to old cassette tapes of The Animals' “House of the Rising Sun,” Lou Reed's “The Dock of the Bay,” and “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison on his way to work each morning. His job requires him to go all around Tokyo to clean all the public restrooms in the city. It's a pretty mundane job, but he seems to like it and is good at it compared to his co-worker Takashi (Tokio Emoto), who is late and doesn't like his job much.
Wenders has made a very contemplative film. It features a man who doesn't say much to anybody; he might have said fifty words in the entire film. It's not what he says that matters, though — it's what he does. Hirayama is a responsible man who takes his job very seriously. When he's not working, he has a similar off-hours routine. He visits a local bar in which he admires the owner/bartender and frequents a little restaurant where he gets drinks and free food as a thank you for his hard work. Hirayama does his laundry like we all do on the weekends.
Koji Yakusho is best known by American audiences as the man who sells a hunting rifle to a nomad in Morocco, setting off a chain of events in 2006's Babel. Here, he gives a tour de force performance as this solitary man who is proud to go about his day cleaning toilets. Sometimes people, like his niece, come in and out of his daily life. This helps the viewer learn a little about this proud, hard-working man. But mostly, the film follows Hirayama and his daily rituals, whether it's watering his plants, taking lunch in a garden, or using his old camera to take a picture of a tree he likes with light shining through it.
As I mentioned, this film is quite relatable to me. I've had a few jobs where I cleaned toilets for a living. One in particular, like Hirayama, I had a truck, and I went around six parks in my town every day for two and a half years, cleaning the toilets and emptying the trash in each park. It was my job, and I took pride in it. This is what I was good at. It's all I'm good at as of today. There are people who need to do these types of jobs. It is part of how the world goes around. The film reminds its audience to respect these workers.
Win Wenders is a German auteur director who has been making movies for many decades. Wings of Desire and Paris, Texas are two of my favorites of his filmography. He just seems like he can capture the mundanity of life — the parts of life we all ignore, but without them, the world wouldn't run smoothly. That's what he does here with Perfect Days. No one wanted a film about a man cleaning toilets in a big city, but when you see it, you will realize how incredible it is. It's these kinds of films — not just because they remind me of my past — that make me happy. I'm a film critic and an all-around lover of film. Wenders is a master filmmaker for a reason. People like him don't come around every day. I hope this film gets in the five for Best International Feature Film next year at the Academy Awards. It's well deserving of one of those slots.
There is one thing in the movie that I found fascinating, but not bad by any means, and that is how this man featured in the film dreams. He dreams in a 4:3 aspect ratio in black and white. We the viewer see his thoughts as he sleeps, and it's pretty much what he saw that day at work. He literally takes his work home with him and dreams about it. I loved these scenes because they showed a different side to this man. This added a nice technical touch to the story.
Perfect Days is a film I had no idea what I was going to see when I walked in, and when I walked out, I couldn't believe what I had just seen. It is about this solitary man and his everyday life. That's it, but it's about so much more. It's about taking pride in your job and being responsible for something everyone takes advantage of. This man could have been like the younger man — chasing tail and being irresponsible — but he chose care instead. If more people cared about their jobs, this world would be a better place all around. It took me completely by surprise, and I'm so happy I saw it this weekend. It's now one of my favorite films of the year. I see a lot of awards consideration in the future for this movie. Hopefully, there will be some Best Actor awards love for Yakusho.
Perfect Days screened at the 2023 Miami GEMS Film Festival, which runs November 2-5.