“Perfect Days”


Metacritic (4/10), Letterboxd (2/5), Imdb.com (4/10), TMDB.com (4/10)

Films that feel like they’re “reaching” in their attempts to make a statement can result in a frustrating watch, as is very much the case with the latest from acclaimed writer-director Wim Wenders. This character study about the life of a middle-aged public toilet cleaner in Tokyo (Koji Yakusho) follows him through his virtually unchanging daily routine of working, reading and taking nearly identical photos of trees. Even though there are minor differences in the events of his day-to-day life, much of his schedule is relentlessly the same, a comfortable yet mundane pattern that’s cinematically repeated endlessly (and one can imagine what that does for holding viewer interest). He seems to purposely keep his life simple to avoid irritating complications, but that appears to be more of a way to stave off loneliness than to provide reassuring measures of certainty and predictability. He also appears to have undergone a painful (though largely unexamined) past that he’s trying to escape, even though he clings to many elements that are rooted in that historical time frame (he listens to cassette tapes from the 1970s-80s, takes photos with a film camera, uses a flip phone and has little awareness about the internet). This lifestyle is presented as the source of some kind of supposedly profound wisdom, yet the insights that emerge from it are, quite frankly, innately simplistic (“the next time is the next time” and “now is now” – truly deep principles, to be sure). As a consequence, all of this makes for a rather tedious watch, one filled with story threads that go largely unexplored and, ultimately, unresolved. To its credit, the film features some fine cinematography and an excellent soundtrack, and it grows progressively more engaging the further one gets into the story (when a story actually begins to develop out of a largely flatlined narrative). But, despite these assets, much of the picture’s opening half is riddled with extraneous material that could have readily been pruned. In fact, the removal of that superfluous content could have easily reduced this work down to a more manageable extended short without losing anything, a change that would have yielded a more worthwhile viewing option. I’m a longtime fan of Wenders’ work, but this offering just doesn’t measure up to his past releases. It’s also somewhat baffling how this production has garnered as much attention as it has, such as its selection as Japan’s entry in the 2023 Academy Awards’ international film category, for which it garnered an Oscar nomination (amazingly beating out the far superior Japanese film “Monster” (“Kaibutsu”)), as well as Yakusho’s best actor award at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival. However, no matter how earnestly a filmmaker may strive to get his or her message across, sometimes it just doesn’t work, as is the case here, and that, unfortunately, is far from perfect.