"’s greatest strength is in how it makes visual poetry out of-everyday occurrences."

Winning Portrayal of a Likeable Loser

(022224) Perfect Days is a lovely, understated, charming little film about the day-to-day incidents in the life of a lowly, elderly toilet cleaner in modern day Japan. The film is spare and restrained without any special effects, frills or flash. But this special film’s greatest strength is it makes visual poetry out of mundane and everyday occurrences. This humanistic film also conveys the honor and nobility of a struggling working-class individual and his ordinary pleasures.

The film is directed by Wim Wenders, one of the major talents of the 70s German New Wave which featured such leading luminaries as Rainer Werner Fassbender, Wolfgang Peterson, Margarethe Von Trotta, and Wener Herzog. With his internationalist themes and his love of American pop culture, Wenders is probably the most accessible member of the German New Wave to American audiences. He did some truly great films including , Kings of the Road (75), An American Friend (77),  Paris Texas (84) for which he won his Palme d’ or, and best of all Wings of Desire (87) which I consider to be his masterpiece. Many critics (including this one) believe that this is his best film in years.

Perfect Days earned overwhelmingly positive reviews and it competed this year for the Palme d’or (it lost to
Anatomy of a Fall) but it did win best actor there. Also it got an Oscar nomination for the best international film. Wenders past films that got nominated for Oscars include Buena Vista Social Club (2000), Pina (2012), and Salt of the Earth (2015).

Like his low budget Hollywood influences, Sam Fuller (who he actually used for a cameo in one of his films), and Edgar Ulmer, the minimalist Wenders believes in getting as much bang as he can for his buck, He makes his evocative art films on limited budgets and they are often much more deep and entertaining than their big budget Hollywood counterparts. In this film Wender’s camera (who makes many documentaries) often takes a passive point of view and records what is in front of it without judgment although it is natural that we develop some sympathy for its saint like protagonist.

The film was named after a classic song by Lou Reed and the main character, Hiryama, who is a 70s music fan is shown listening to it in his own home (the soundtrack also includes a melancholy classic Pale Blue Eyes from Reed’s old group: The Velvet Underground.) The song Perfect Day, like this film, is fairly positive with an undercurrent of melancholy, and after having a great time with a loved one he thanks her with the line: “Oh it’s such a perfect day/I’m glad I spent it with you.” But the song is used ironically because when he hears it, he is alone with no apparent good friends, and he never seems to talk much to his sister who he is apparently estranged from. The film also hints that like the movie there is something dark and disturbing under it’s surface with the line: ”You’re going to reap what you sow.”

Wenders has always displayed a love of American rock music which he uses well in his films and he is known for assembling some of the best soundtracks in film (especially the fine one he did for Until the End of the World) and here Perfect Day is no exception. The film includes songs by: the Animals, Patti Smith, Otis Redding and of course Lou Reed, often linked to key scenes in the film. Many of the songs are heard because he plays them on his ever-present cassette player.

The film like many of Wonder’s works is nearly plotless, but like the films
Showing Up and Fallen Leaves seemingly random little events that build up to something and take on great significance. As an outsider looking in, Wenders also seems to be fascinated by the rigidify how many of how people live day to day in Japan's rigid social structure.

Koji Yakusho gives a winning performance worthy of an Oscar nomination that recalls Robert Farnsworth’s portrayal of the gentle elderly outsider in David Lynch’s The Straight Story (1999) as well as his own excellent role in The Eel (1997). Apparently, the main character, Hirayan ,played perfectly with restraint and a quiet dignity by Kon Yakusho, was hurt terribly by something in his past.

The film is as great for what it leaves out as what it puts in. When his sister expresses surprise over his cleaning job so we can guess that he had a better job and more promising career. it is obvious that he is settling and either doesn’t think he can do better or doesn’t want to.

Hirayan is a hard worker and he has a fairly strict, regimented daily routine. He gets up early every morning , trims his mustache carefully as if he is going to give a public speech, has coffee, waters his plants, and dons his uniform while it is still dark and the streets are empty. He works hard scrubbing he bathroom toilets and floor and takes as much pride in his work as a priest delivering a sermon or a lawyer in church.

There are some small diversions in his life. He has lunch in the local park occasionally conversing with people. He also takes pleasure in photographing the park vegetation with his small camera, and he meticulously organizes his photos into boxes according to dates (the man is nothing if he is not precise) . Occasionally he indulges in a public bath in an always empty bathhouse. The repetition of his actions, which often only has slight variations creates the a similar hypnotic effect as a pace of minimalist classical music.

Although he seems content with his self-chosen isolation, he also sometimes feels lonely at times. He gets a pleasant surprise when his cheerful and fresh-faced niece Niko (Arisa Nikano) shows up unannounced . She spends a few days with him and keeps him company on his rounds. Like many of his boomer contemporaries (and Star Lord from the Guardians of the Galaxy films), he is stuck in the 70s, and only plays music from that era on his cassette player, and he is blissfully unaware of modern developments.

At one point Niko professes admiration for the Van Morrison song he is playing and when she asks if it is on Spotify, he replies “I don’t know, I’ve never been there” as if it were a place which inspires a hearty laugh from her. Her laugh is joyous and full of life and she provides a momentary connection for him to the here and now.
He also has a reckless and highly immature co-worker, Takashi, who will do anything to please his pink haired emo girlfriend (she shares his love of Patti Smith with Hirayama) but she usually seems much less interested in him than he is in her. Hirayama lends money to Takashi so he can take the girl out even though it is almost certain he will never repay it. Also the selfish young man insists that Hirayama sell his cassettes (apparently cassettes are collectable in Japan) presumably so he can borrow more money but the old man staunchly refuses.

While he is not techno-phobic, Hirayama is unusually old fashioned and behind the times. He never uses such modern contrivances as TV, DVDs or streaming. He only reads old books by respected authors (like Faulkner) and he is never shown online, plus he (of course) pays for everything with paper money-he might have problems in modern day post covid America where some businesses don’t even take cash. I’m sure everyone has known someone like this who (perhaps a hermit uncle) has never truly moved beyond the era he grew up in.

The film is also filled with gorgeous black and white dream sequences which often show barely decipherable fragments of the main character’s subconscious. In interviews Wenders says he sees dreams as remnants of time. They all add an element of the avant-garde to the film and balances out the realistic nature of the rest of the film. The dream images often show foliage and blurry images of a woman which perhaps alludes to his romantic yearning for a long lost love. These dream scenes are the only parts of the film Wenders himself did not make because he got too busy, so the scenes were shot by his wife: Donata Wenders.

The film begins with a pleasant personal message by the director and star thanking the audience for seeing the film on a big screen and supporting in person cinema. After the film audience members will also probably want to thank them back for producing a work that elevates and celebrates resilience of the human spirit. The film is an almost totally satisfying portrait of an individual who is extraordinary for his ordinariness and the only reason this did not get four stars was that the anti-climactic ending was a bit random and underwhelming.

Perfect Days is only playing at select theatres but hopefully because of its Oscar nomination it will expand to other venues and I’m sure it will eventually make it to streaming platforms. The film deserves its critical praise and it is well worth seeking out.

Directed by:    Wim Wenders
Written by:    Screenplay by Takuma Takasaki
Starring:    Koji Yakusho, Tokio Emoto, Arisa Nakano
Released:    02/07/2024 (USA)
Length:    122 minutes
Rating:    R for language, some drug use, sexual references
 and some violence and some nudity
Available On:    At press time this was playing at selected
 Chicago area theatres. In Japanese with English

For more writings by Vittorio Carli go to and His latest book "Tape Worm Salad with Olive Oil for Extra Flavor" is also available.

Mister Carli is going to speak about how the Frankenstein Monster has evolved in the media at Moraine Valley Community College in his upcoming lecture: “The Complete Character is Nowhere: The Evolution of Frankenstein and His Monster in Films, Comics and Songs”
This event is scheduled on Wednesday, March 6th, noon-12:50pm, at Moraine Valley Library Lounge (Building L).

Mister Carli will also host the program: "Poetry and Film" at the Chicago Public Library's Back of the Yards Branch on Saturday, April 13th at 3:00pm.

Come to the New Poetry Show on the first Saturday of every month at Tangible Books in Bridgeport from 7-9 at 3324 South Halsted.
This is now a monthly show featuring Poetry/Spoken Word, some Music, Stand Up and Performance Art and hosted by Mister Carli. For more information e-mail: for details

Upcoming features at the Poetry Show:
March 2-Gregorio Gomez, Bob Lawrence, Daina Popp, and Donna Voyeur
April 6-Charles Haddad, Don Hargraves, and others to be announced.

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