Alone but not lonely in Perfect Days

Director Wim Wenders creates an "earthy air of existential enchantment" centered on one seemingly mundane life

Perfect Days (Pageant Theatre, March 15-17) is a Japanese production by a German-born auteur, the cosmopolitan septuagenarian Wim Wenders. It has won film festival prizes in France, Australia and the US, and was one of five Oscar nominees for Best International Film. Its lead actor, Koji Yakusho, won Best Actor at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival.

The actor/dancer Min Tanaka appears in a tiny but genuinely haunting role. Songs by Lou Reed, Patti Smith, the Kinks and Van Morrison are part of the central character’s daily life, and one of his more memorable encounters is with a woman singing “House of the Rising Sun” in Japanese.

All of the above helps generate an earthy air of existential enchantment in what might otherwise sound like a discouraging subject—the daily life of an older man who lives alone, and works days cleaning public rest rooms in modern-day Tokyo. Hirayama prefers to live alone, but has moderately dramatic encounters with a runaway niece and her mother (his sister) and with a buffoonish assistant and the assistant’s mysteriously disenchanted girl friend.

Wenders documents a week in Hirayama’s life in characteristic style, with a quiet, lyrical (and almost minimalist) realism. It’s a style that evokes more than it asserts, and in Perfect Days the cumulative effect is calm and compelling.

The enchanted intimacy of the film (and of its main character) thrives on a kind of inspired alertness. It’s alive to the minutiae of daily living, but never really loses touch with spiritual and emotional experience. (No surprise, then, that Perfect Days won the Ecumenical Jury Prize at Cannes.)

Hirayama lives alone, but in a way that is never truly lonely.

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