Your Weekly Roundup Movies: Wim Wenders’ “Perfect Days” Finds Poetry in the Cleaning of Toyko’s Toilets

What to see and what to skip.

Perfect Days (Courtesy of imdb)


**** Every dawn, Hirayama (Koji Yakusho) awakens without an alarm. His neighbor’s sidewalk sweeping initiates the handsome 60-year-old’s daily consciousness, and a routine begins. Mustache trim, coveralls, canned coffee, cassette in the van stereo (Patti Smith or Lou Reed) as Hirayama commutes into Shibuya City to dutifully clean Tokyo’s public toilets. From what we can tell—because Hirayama says maybe five sentences in Perfect Days’ first half—the dirty job is just a job to him. The work remains in balance with Hirayama’s passion for music, his voracious reading, and his lunchtime nature photography. It’s no mystery why directing legend Wim Wenders (Paris, Texas; Wings of Desire) would be interested in rendering such a life. What 78-year-old, capital-A artist wouldn’t be? This is idealistic working-class poetry (à la Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson) about a man who accepts life as a series of days that can be pleasurable if porcelain scrubbing and creative ruminating are treated with equal care. As the Cannes jury decided when they gave him Best Actor in 2023, Yakusho makes all this mundanity incredibly watchable. The Japanese star’s shifting micro-expressions reveal a character who can be bashful, boyish or imposing when his constancy is interrupted by his co-worker, his niece, or a fateful stranger. We may wonder why Hirayama chooses solitude, but his ability to be present is as comforting as it is aspirational. Wenders taps into a precious cinematic paradox: We viewers escape our lives to be mindful inside someone else’s. PG. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Cinema 21.


**** In Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s 2018 masterpiece Shoplifters, a father tells his son, “All men like boobs.” It’s a cringe-y declaration, but hardly evidence of bigotry. The father, a scrappy shoplifter, doesn’t hate gay people; he just isn’t worldly enough to consider that his son might be one. In retrospect, the moment plays like a prelude to Monster, in which Kore-eda crafts an exquisite portrait of queer love that gradually comes into focus. A time-shifting tale of anguished parents, desperate teachers, and barely knowable youths, Monster is a beautifully slippery creation. While the film is populated with tragically well-meaning grown-ups, it is two boys, Minato and Yori (Soya Kurokawa and Hinata Hiiragi), who get the last word—or note, rather. As Minato and Yori flee the confinement and compromises of the adult world, the film’s score punctuates their escape with a beautifully delicate piano melody by Ryuichi Sakamoto, who died of cancer last year. In 2021, Sakamoto wrote, “I am hoping to make music for a little while longer.” So he did, writing a score that captures the lyrical essence of first love. PG-13. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Living Room.


**** Both lyrical and essayistic, the latest film by Ava DuVernay is, firstly, a feat of adaptation. Here, the Selma director interprets 2020 nonfiction bestseller Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, which explores pancultural patterns of dehumanization throughout history. Yet Origin also foregrounds the research and writing of that book by Pulitzer Prize winner Isabel Wilkerson (Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor), turning this story into the cultural study meets memoir it never was on the page. It’s a bold choice, with DuVernay drenching the writer’s pursuit in historical flashbacks, as Wilkerson searches for the thesis of Caste across Germany, India, and the Deep South (where Audra McDonald, playing interview subject Miss Hale, delivers an astounding one-scene performance). With Kris Bowers’ orchestral score pulling the audience across borders and centuries, Ellis-Taylor embodies the quiet obsession of a writer who lives mostly in her head but is desperate to crack the code of man’s inhumanity to man. Sociologists and historians could rightly argue that Wilkerson’s premise—that racism is the result of deliberately constructed caste systems, not inherent biases—is flawed because capitalism, colonialism and genocide are expressed differently through American slavery, the Holocaust, and the subjugation of India’s Dalits. But that doesn’t matter when Origin is stretched to its full height. Akin to another rhetoric- and editing-centric piece of creative nonfiction, Oliver Stone’s JFK (1991), the ways in which theories hold water isn’t Origin’s reason for being. What matters is the deluge of anecdotal and emotional truth. PG-13. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Bridgeport, Living Room.


**** Astoria becomes an extension of a young woman’s soul in Sometimes I Think About Dying, an exquisitely restrained drama from director Rachel Lambert. Rey Skywalker herself, Daisy Ridley, plays Fran, a numb office worker who sits rigidly in her cubicle, silently terrified of being forced to engage in pleasantries. With eerie grace, Sometimes I Think About Dying peers into Fran’s suicidal visions—she imagines herself entombed in a tangle of driftwood on a desolate beach—but even as the film evokes the monotony of her depression, it gleams in moments of connection. An unexpected friendship with a hyperactive, pie-munching co-worker (Dave Merheje) leads Fran to a murder mystery party, where she delights the guests by flamboyantly miming death by acid. Fran is never more alive than when she yanks death from the darkened crevices of her mind and plays it as farce, an act that draws her more deeply into a city and its people. Sometimes I Think About Dying is unmistakably an Astorian movie—only in a close-knit community could a character give directions to their home by saying it’s behind “the purple house”—but its emotional reach goes beyond the sweep of the Columbia River, which to Fran seems both an empty void and an inviting canvas. Sometimes she thinks about living. PG-13. BENNETT CAMPBELL FERGUSON. Fox Tower.


*** Orion and the Dark is an animated kids movie penned by Charlie Kaufman, who is known for writing offbeat dramas like Being John Malkovich and Adaptation. Based on the book of the same name by Emma Yarlett, Kaufman’s script follows a boy named Orion (Jacob Tremblay) who is afraid of everything. The night before a school field trip, Orion meets his biggest fear: the Dark (Paul Walter Hauser), who joins him on a journey that forces Orion to face and learn from his fears. While Orion and the Dark is kiddie fare, Kaufman does manage to squeeze in some jokes aimed at adults (children likely won’t understand the nods to David Foster Wallace and Werner Herzog), while director Sean Charmatz brings Kaufman’s script to life in colorful ways (including when Orion’s drawings of his fears come flying off the pages of his sketchbook). Some of the characters’ facial animations look dated, but Charmatz’s stylistic choices are enjoyable overall. Orion and the Dark is no Inside Out or Soul, but it’s still an entertaining exploration of Orion’s vivid inner life. TV-Y7. DANIEL RESTER. Netflix.


** If there’s one word to describe Argylle, it’s “indecisive.” There are clever ideas at play, and at times the film is outright spectacular, but director Matthew Vaughn (Kingsman, X-Men: First Class) and screenwriter Jason Fuchs seem incapable of picking just one tone, tangent or trajectory to follow. The film starts as Romancing the Stone meets The Bourne Identity, as mild-mannered spy-fi novelist Elly Conway (Bryce Dallas Howard) becomes the target of actual secret agents when her latest manuscript reads too much like an active black-ops case. There’s fun to be had with the contrast between Elly’s clean-cut protagonist Agent Argylle (Henry Cavill) and the uncouth spy who protects her, Aidan Wilde (Sam Rockwell), but a midpoint twist upends the whole excursion and sends Elly on a divergent emotional journey that easily could have taken up the whole runtime. Vaughn can’t decide if he’s making another twisted James Bond spoof like Kingsman or a sincere ode to bombastic ‘80s thrillers, but he remains unimpeachable as an action director, delivering fight scenes that range from the creative to the ludicrous (all while Howard and Rockwell share fabulous rom-com rapport). Argylle strains under the weight of its ambitions, but if Vaughn’s irreverent charm is your thing, it’ll leave you shaken and stirred. PG-13. MORGAN SHAUNETTE. Bridgeport, Eastport, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Laurelhurst, Living Room, Oak Grove, Pioneer Place, Progress Ridge, St. Johns Twin, Studio One.


** Despite its curiously instructional title—as though belonging to a neurotic satire of teenage libido—How to Have Sex is actually interested in a socially prescribed recipe for formative sexual encounters. That is to say, friends who discuss precious little except hooking up, 10 gallons of vodka, and strobe-lit nightclubs on a Greek isle where three British teenagers find themselves on holiday, ready to cut loose. Tara (Mia McKenna-Bruce), in particular, feels pressure from her friend Skye (Lara Peake) to leave virginity behind on this girls trip. But oddly, Skye’s flagrant bad-friend behavior is one of the only subjective narrative choices in How to Have Sex. Otherwise, the debut feature from cinematographer Molly Manning Walker seems entirely focused on dispelling the notion that this blackout pool-party tableau is conducive to teenage girls’ autonomy. Walker has created a docurealist diagnostic that seems to state “so this is how it happens” with regard to how young men and Tara’s social programming put her at risk. The film capably delivers that message, but there’s so little character work or exposition that How to Have Sex appears devised more as a foregone conclusion than a story. Tara and every girl like her deserve far better than a study’s obvious results. NR. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Living Room.

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