A plot summary of Perfect Days could be read as a joke. The film regards the daily routine of a quiet middle-aged Japanese man as he goes about cleaning Tokyo’s public toilets. Things happen to this man, but that’s the basic gist of the film and its structure. In the hands of acclaimed director Wim Wenders, however, its tone and effect become much more than that.
For one, Wenders’ eye captures the scale and beauty of Tokyo in Perfect Days; at the same time, the film is made by the expressive face of Kōji Yakusho. In an award-winning turn, Yakusho plays Hirayama, the man of routine: he wakes early in the morning, drives into the city, cleans toilets, regards nature, enjoys a restorative bath, a meal, and this or that book. It’s a simple life by design, complicated only by the encounters set before Hirayama in the film’s quartered structure. Each of these sequences reveals something of our hero—be it a legible annoyance or some undefined trauma—and is further shaped by Yakusho’s wonderfully subtle performance, one that is more Buster Keaton than Jeanne Dielman.
The Zen conceit at the heart of Perfect Days is clear enough to see, the long wordless stretches that settle on a natural, calming frequency. Each moment in Wenders’ film suggests a passing emotion, one that can come and go, with or without other people around. When Hirayama says “now is now,” it’s simple enough to understand what he means; unlocking the film then becomes a matter of considering how deep “now” can be.