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Perfect Days (2023) Review: Finding Beauty In The Mundane

Perfect Days (2023) Review: Finding Beauty In The Mundane

Perfect Days (2023) review

With time, people tend to get accustomed to solitude and find contentment in the mundane monotony of life until they’re reminded of it. Oscar-nominated Japanese-German drama Perfect Days, set in the city of Tokyo, takes us into the everydayness of Hirayama. The man usually dines alone; the imagery of someone eating alone is a potent visual symbol, evoking a profound sense of isolation. Wim Wenders contemplates the Hirayama‘s life in its simplest details and allows us to empathize with him in his quiet moments of joy, tranquility, and poignancy.

Hirayama, played by Kōji Yakusho, is a sanitation worker assigned to cleaning the public toilets. Waking up precisely at the same time every day, he waters his plants, grabs a coffee, and drives his cab to work while listening to retro music on cassettes. His days are duly organized at work, save for some ordinary encounters with strangers. He is so used to even the ill treatments that he often encounters at work. After finishing his meal at the stone bench in the park, clicking pictures of his favorite tree, and going to the bathing station, the restaurant, and the bar during the weekend, he rides back home on his bicycle.

 

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He reads every day, drifts into abstract dreams, and seamlessly wakes up to yet another perfect day. Though it appears minimal in its narrative to switch between routines, the film is firmly grounded in profound philosophical thoughts about life and the wisdom that often accompanies age.

It’s interesting how stories set in unfamiliar landscapes can resonate deeply while making you realize the spectrum of shared human emotions. Hirayama is a man of few words, communicating mostly through silent, polite nods. In stark contrast, his talkative coworker epitomizes the typical modern young man. Their aspirations for a better living differ; Hirayama embraces peace and quiet, and has aligned his modest lifestyle with the rhythm of modernity the film cartridges he buys for the camera, or in how he chronicles his everyday memoirs and, essentially his being. The slow-burn character study delves deep, over time, reminding us to admire the beauty and serenity in everyday life.

A character, as a catalyst that would change the course of the storyworld, is too classical in storytelling. On one of his random perfect days, Hirayama is visited by his niece, whom he initially fails to recognize since she has grown up. She has run away from her mother and decides to stay with him, bringing back memories of a past Hirayama had long abandoned. The teenage girl easily gets along with Hirayama. Although it slightly disrupts his routine, he’s swept up in the warmth of their time together. They share an understanding, as if they were both lost members of the same flock. When it’s time for the girl to leave, Hirayama bids her farewell, embraces his sister, and as they depart, he breaks down into inconsolable tears. In a steady, wide frame, Wim Wenders literally makes him appear as if he is left apart, reminded of, and thrown into deep melancholy.

Perfect Days is a film that delicately weaves subtlety into its narrative, particularly in the way it evokes emotion and transcends the mundane. Hirayama‘s focus is on preserving the small yet significant things in his life, whether it be retro music cassettes, plant saplings from the park, cherished photographs, or a simple paper game with a stranger. He builds everything around him to foster a habitual feeling of contentment. It’s in these moments that the film reaches out to the viewer, urging them to slow down, not be overwhelmed by deep distress, and to appreciate the seemingly ordinary things that surround them.

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The last time we see Hirayama is as he drives away to work, listening to Nina Simone sing Feeling Good. As the song unfolds, Hirayama experiences a complex array of emotions, difficult to describe but easy to empathize with. Wim Wenders infuses such vitality into the character and his surroundings, creating a sense that Hirayama has long inhabited this world, and we’re merely glimpsing snippets of his life. Koji Yakusho’s portrayal is so authentic that it’s hard to separate him from his character.

Ultimately, Perfect Days leaves a lasting impression, reaffirming the power of storytelling to evoke emotions and alter perceptions.

The film premiered at Cannes 2023 where it won the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury and the Best Actor Award for Kōji Yakusho. It’s nominated for the Best International Feature Film at the 96th Academy Awards.

Rating: 4/5

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