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By Landon Huneycutt

Director Wim Wenders’ films meld the physical and metaphysical. They are both visually abstract and quietly poetic, capturing not just major emotional beats but also what lies between them. Wenders captures his characters’ surroundings and how his characters are formed by them. He strips away preconceived notions of what defines the insignificant and significant. 

To him there is no insignificant action, character or moment. He allows breathing room for his characters to explore their various settings: Travis wanders the Mojave Desert, Los Angeles and the highways in Paris, Texas. Zimmermann and Ripley traverse various cities and the settings within — train stations, trains, apartments, a mansion — in The American Friend. Hirayama cleans public toilets in Tokyo and drives around listening to cassette tapes in Perfect Days. 

Perfect Days, which starts screening Feb. 22 at The Independent Picture House, features Wenders at his best in decades. Wenders opts for a 1.37:1 aspect ratio, which allows for an intimate portrayal of the characters within the frame and in relation to each other and their environment. The work of Yasujiro Ozu, Japan’s greatest filmmaker and a favorite of Wenders, influences this film, yet Wenders never loses his voice. He is not copying Ozu, rather he is working off of his filmography. Routine, repetition and quiet reflection make up much of Perfect Days’ runtime.

Hirayama, played by Koji Yakusho in one of his best performances, is a public-toilet cleaner. His routine is waking up and getting ready for work, cleaning the bathrooms, driving to each job site while listening to his cassette tapes, riding a bike, browsing music and book stores and reading. His routine has deviations; characters come in and out of his life, including one who steals a tape and a family member who begins to stay with him. Through these interactions we learn about Hirayama, through his actions toward the other characters and his silent responses to their words. The film isn’t elliptical in structure but is implicative of Hirayama’s past. Perhaps Hirayama’s rigid routine is him attempting to create structure he didn’t have in his past. 

But Wenders places us in the now. The film celebrates the beauty of routine and the moments that can interrupt it. Each gesture, word or shot is given as much care as the one before and the one proceeding it. Wenders has made his best film in decades. Perfect Days is a beautiful meditation on the little things in life and how grand they can really be.


When not working at IPH, Landon Hunycutt obsesses over the works of Buster Keaton, Yasujiro Ozu and Robert Bresson.
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