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He’s gone from warrior to washroom cleaner, but Kôji Yakusho feels “lucky”



Peter Howell

Movie Critic


Many veteran actors might consider being offered the role of toilet cleaner to be something less than a primo gig. Some might even take it as an insult.


Not veteran Japanese actor Kôji Yakusho, the star of “Perfect Days,” Wim Wenders’ Oscar-nominated new film. Yakusho jumped at the lead role of Hirayama, a humble loo scrubber who has found the secret to making ordinary days seem extraordinary.


“I’m just a really lucky guy,” said Yakusho, 68, in an interview during the most recent Toronto International Film Festival. His sincerity was palpable, although it was talent more than luck that led to his success with the role, which won him the award for best actor at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival.


“Perfect Days” won the prize of the art-minded Ecumenical Jury at Cannes; the film is competing for best international feature at the upcoming Academy Awards. It's now playing at the TIFF Lightbox until Feb. 15.


Yakusho, a man of ready smiles and laughter, has been famous in his home country since at least 1985, when he played a gangster in the hit comedy “Tampopo.” In 1996 he starred as a groove-seeking accountant in “Shall We Dance?” a rom-com that became an international hit and spawned an English-language remake starring Richard Gere.


The following year, in “The Eel,” he played an ex-convict who befriends the title fish; the film won the Palme d’Or at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival. His international profile and dramatic reach have grown in the 21st century. He played a gruff ex-military man in “Memoirs of a Geisha” (2005), a besieged father in “Babel” (2006) and a samurai warrior in “13 Assassins” (2010), to name just a handful of this adroit actor’s more than 100 career assignments.


Yakusho said he needed no persuasion to take the role of Hirayama, who doesn’t speak much and who conscientiously cleans Tokyo’s public toilets, making them as spotless as if they’re in the city’s Imperial Palace. And these biffies are indeed special, with glass doors that turn opaque at the turn of a lock.


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