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Dan Webster reviews "Perfect Days"

Film still of Koji Yakusho as Hirayama in Perfect Days (2023).
Perfect Days, Master Mind/Wenders Images/Neon, 2023.
Film still of Koji Yakusho as Hirayama in Perfect Days (2023).


In her book Nothing Special, the late Zen teacher and author Charlotte Joko Beck gives the following simple bit of advice: “Joy,” she wrote, “is being willing for things to be as they are.”

That sentiment could stand as a subtitle for the Wim Wenders film Perfect Days, which stars the Japanese actor Koji Yakusho as a man whose everyday existence comes as close to capturing Joko Beck’s view on how to live as anything could be portrayed on a movie screen.

Yakusho plays Hirayama, a middle-aged man who lives alone in small apartment in a Tokyo suburb and who, as we meet him, seems to be a creature of habit. He rises every morning to the sound of a neighbor sweeping the street. He folds his bedding, brushes his teeth, moistens his small indoor garden, dons his uniform, purchases a canned coffee from a vending machine, slips into his van, picks out a selection of mostly American music from the 1970s or ’80s—everything from Lou Reed to Van Morrison and Nina Simone—and drives to work.

Afterward, he drives home, stops at the same couple of places to eat—where he is always welcomed—then returns to his orderly apartment and reads for a while (Faulkner being a favorite author) before going to sleep, only to dream of shadows and faces all rendered by Wenders in a gauzy black and white.

And what is his job? Well, Hirayama’s uniform tells the tale: On his back are emblazoned the words The Tokyo Toilet. Hirayama spends his days traveling from one public toilet to the next, patiently cleaning after the many people who—often without even noticing him—use the free facilities.

Hirayama, though, notices everything. The homeless guy who dances as if he were doing his personal variation on Tai Chi. The lost little boy crying for his mother. The young woman who sits near him in a park-like shrine as they both eat their lonely lunches.

Most of all he notices trees. Hirayama is fascinated by trees, which he looks at—and photographs—wherever he goes. In fact, trees turn out to be a subplot in and of themselves, since the script that director Wenders co-wrote with film producer Takuma Takasaki has Hirayama continually driving past Tokyo’s famous SkyTree—said to be the world’s tallest tower—and at one point buying a book titled Tree by the Japanese writer Aya Koda.

One afternoon he even collects a tree sprout, carefully returns it to his apartment and adds it to his garden. Hirayama clearly is a caretaker, but not just of plants. And his willingness to help comes not as a break from his usual routines but as a corollary to them.

When his young co-worker Takashi (played a bit too energetically by Tokio Emoto) needs money to court Aya, the woman he lusts after (played by Aoi Yamada), Hirayama provides it. When Aya wishes to hear his cassette of Patti Smith singing “Redondo Beach,” he lets her. When the ex-husband of a café owner he knows tells him that he’s gravely ill, he listens… before engaging the man in a game of shadow tag.

But the most telling sequence involves his niece Niko (played by Arisa Nikano), who shows up at his doorstep, having run away from her wealthy mother’s upscale home. It’s when the mother, Hirayama’s estranged sister Keiko (played by Yumi Asō), comes to collect Niko that the reason for Hirayama’s way of living gets at least partially explained.

All of this is portrayed slowly, patiently and yet powerfully, not so different from the way a Zen koan unfolds, its meaning demonstrating a larger truth that often defies standard logic. It’s as if Wenders is inviting us to experience Hirayama’s life not so much as a witness but as part of the character’s actual world. And as Hirayama himself, Yakusho—who won the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival—manages to portray, mostly wordlessly, an array of emotions ranging from bewilderment to delight to wonder that gives us insight, if not a total understanding, of who in the end he is.

His niece Niko, though, accepts him just as he is. It is she who understands best when he gives her a koan of his own: “Next time is next time,” he says, “now is now.” Joko Beck would no doubt agree.

For Spokane Public Radio, I’m Dan Webster.


Movies 101 host Dan Webster is a senior film critic for Spokane Public Radio and a blogger for

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