Perfect Days

DRAMA; 2hr 4min (Japanese with subtitles)

STARRING: Köji Yakusho, Tokio Emoto, Arisa Nakano

Between worlds: Yakusho

Cleaning public toilets would have to be the lowest rung on anyone’s career ladder. Yet Hirayama (Yakusho, silently eloquent) is a model of peace as he moves methodically through unremarkable routines that are all but invisible to the people of Tokyo’s wider world.


Their disregard suits him fine: Hirayama’s companions are the trees he photographs, the retro music cassettes (Lou Reed, Otis Redding, Van Morrison…) he plays in his blocky little van and the comfort of evening rituals in a bathhouse and café. Later, in his monastic apartment, he reads William Faulkner and Patricia Highsmith. Although he is no longer young, Hirayama’s spirit is ageless, gliding untouched by time.


If there are worse ways for Hirayama to live, there are certainly more personally involving ones. It takes 30-some minutes of director Wim Wenders and co-writer Takuma Takasaki’s strangely involving screenplay for its roving protagonist to utter one measly line, which leaves ample time for questions. How can this cerebral man be content with so little? From what mysterious history has he made his way alone? Is his current bubble a necessity or a choice?


Chosen or not, all bubbles are an eggshell dream of belief. When Hirayama’s young niece, Niko (Nakano), arrives out of the blue, his ascetic regularity is cracked open. He accepts Niko’s presence with the same equanimity he brings to all his encounters, most notably with his mouthy underling, Takashi (Emoto). Even so, her arrival unlatches a door into the emotions of a past he has manifestly done his utmost to put behind him.


Like Hirayama, as a film-maker, Wenders (Paris, Texas; Wings of Desire) is serenely in tune with the art of finding grace in what you have. Those who choose their own company could tell you that loneliness and isolation are never the same thing. To consciously stand apart can be a singular blessing.