Review: Perfect Days (NYFF 61)

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Title: Perfect Days
Director: Wim Wenders
Starring: Koji Yakusho, Arisa Nakano, Aoi Yamada, Tokio Emoto
MPAA Rating: Not Yet Rated
Runtime: 2 hr 3 mins

What It Is: Next time is next time, now is now.” Hirayama (Koji Yakusho) is a middle aged man who works at a toilet cleaner. As days pass, he encounters people and experiences that shape his current life and unearth his past.

What We Think: From Wim Wenders and Takuma Takashi comes a film that runs the line of experimental, documentary and fiction all together. You can feel as the wind whispers through the spaces of time these characters inhabit, that by marking moments with such delicate intimacy and sensory standstills, this film is a unique look into the everyday. The mundane turning into something more, or rather the way our main character happily views what others may consider mundane.

The camera lingers happily on Koji Yaksuho, who gives a terrific performance as a man who in simple pleasures finds the stuff of dreams that stream into his life over the course of the film. A comical Tokio Emoto and a alluring Aoi Yamada are also highlights, yet the most touching moments surge from Hirayama’s relationship with his niece Niko played by Arisa Nakano. Her entrance into the story has the same impact as rain pattering down a clear window, a new dimension added to Hirayama’s daily routine. Later encounters in the film carry a gravity that is palpable through Yaksuho’s gaze into the rustling leaves and cloudy skies as he drives within his little van through the streets of Tokyo.

It’s remarkable how Wenders and co. approach this particular story, looking at Hirayama’s character as an actual person rather than as a ‘character’, or choosing a song to reflect what he would be listening to in a certain moment rather than having one play to reflect the mood of the moment.

I’m particularly fond of the film’s pacing – a long time is spent living through long drives (accompanied by the likes of Lou Reed and The Animals), the actual chores of Hirayama’s work leading to the aftermath of a long day, then to what is done in his free time or on his off-days. We could be sitting right next to him on the opposite bench as he takes his lunch break, basking in the sun and snapping a few pictures. Then, all is repeated and perhaps stretched to a point of numbness for some, yet I felt like this settles the viewer into Hirayama’s shoes perfectly, due to the imagery being oxygenated by beautiful camera movements capturing sunsets, tears and people with a tender palette of autumnal colors. Each day is smiled upon by Hirayama, but an eventual question arises: how long before his optimism turns sour? Through Wender’s delicate eye for the human condition, the film sets out to give us an answer… as bittersweet as it may be.

Our Grade: A; Out of this year’s films, Perfect Days is a calming exhale of soulful reflection on life’s simple joys and unexpected jolts, told through the eyes of a master filmmaker and a captivating lead performance – you mustn’t miss it.

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