Perfect Days, Japan/Germany 2023. Directed by Wim Wenders, written by Wim Wenders and Takasaki Takuma.
Cinema Theater, Row 3 Seat 11. Original version w/ subs.
(This post also appears, in slightly different form and without the amendment, at my Instagram account betweendrafts.)
If you love Japan and Tōkyō in particular; introspective arcs where not a lot happens but what does happen is both trivial and deep and both hilariously funny and existentially sad; and a kind of autopoietic nostalgia machine that turns any present moment into something beautiful that’s already been lost; then Perfect Days is right for you.
Of nostalgia, there’s a lot—from rock music on cassette tapes to (¥100) dollar rack paperbacks to b&w photography with a 1991 Olympus Mju 1 to the movie’s own “boxed” aspect ratio of 1.33:1. Shot on a digital Sony Venice 2 but with TLS-rehoused Canon K35 primes, Lustig’s slightly oversaturated and lightly grained cinematography is reminiscent of Polaroids, only with a more sophisticated color palette and a flexible depth of field that catches Tōkyō’s sharp urban vistas as intensely and beautifully as the actors’ magically bokeh’d medium closeups.
The protagonist’s days, moreover, are bridged by Donata Wenders’s monochrome impressionist “dream installations” that superimpose each day’s experiences with childhood memories and the 木漏れ日/komorebi photographs of sunlight filtering through tree foliage that he takes every day with his Olympus during lunch break at a shrine.
Two obvious motif pairings are repetition & safety and freedom & solitude, both intimately related and precariously intertwined. There’s safety in repetition and routine, but there’s a price to pay to return to it once it’s been disrupted by initially annoying but increasingly exciting events. Then, there’s freedom to be found in solitude; but it’s brittle and fragile and can turn into loneliness on a dime, especially when this solitude might not have been chosen freely but as a containment for childhood events that cannot be forgotten or forgiven.
Along Wenders & Takasaki’s fantastic script, Yakusho Kōji’s incredible performance shines with a vivid minimalism that is unwaveringly touching and funny. If, at the end of the movie, you don’t know whether to be joyful or sad, whether you should laugh or cry, you’re in good company. The protagonist, Yakusho Kōji’s Hirayama, doesn’t know either.
I’ve been asked what kind of price I meant when I wrote that “there’s a price to pay” to return to safety and repetition after the occurrence of initially annoying but increasingly exciting events. Indeed, I didn’t elaborate on that. Part of the reason is that I always try to keep these “brief reviews” brief and under Instagram’s 2,200 character limit. But amendments are fine!
What I meant by “price” needs to be understood in the context of autopoietic nostalgia, which, as mentioned, “turns any present moment into something beautiful that’s already been lost.” These are losses that do not hurt, however, because these moments can and are relived through repetition. Those “initially annoying but increasingly exciting events,” in contrast, are unique and can precisely not be repeated. Which, generally, isn’t a bad thing. But returning to the safety of repetition and routine will prevent them from generating related moments with exciting new memories to supersede them, so that these moments are truly lost in time and will forever hurt because of it.
If you have something valuable to add or some interesting point to discuss, I’ll be looking forward to meeting you at Mastodon!