I sat in silence for a while after finishing Wim Wenders’ Perfect Days and then ended up on Spotify, searching for the film’s soundtrack. The latter is ironically funny, given our lead, Mr. Hirayama, doesn’t have a clue what “Spotify” is. The man lives in 2023, but he belongs to an old world. On the surface, Wender’s Japanese drama appears to be a celebration of the mundane, much like Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson, but underneath the surface, there lie layers of melancholy, heartbreak, and hope. It’s also a portrayal of working-class people, something that we saw very recently in Aki Kaurismäki’s Fallen Leaves, but the treatment is much different here. Wender’s signature style, which involves a lot of silence, cynicism, and the use of striking imagery as tools of storytelling, fits this story and its central character perfectly.
Plot Synopsis: What Happens In The Movie?
On regular work days, Mr. Hirayama doesn’t need an alarm, as the sound of the broom brushing against the road is enough to wake him up. This gets followed by the routine of brushing teeth, grabbing a coffee from the vending machine, and then going to work, where he meticulously cleans the toilets in Tokyo. During lunch hours, he sits in silence, gazes at the trees, and eats his sandwiches. Occasionally, he takes some pictures with a really old analog camera. After work, Mr. Hirayama takes a bath at a bathhouse and then eats at a local eatery, where the owner never forgets to thank him for his service. His day ends with him reading books in peace inside his one-room apartment before falling asleep. While commuting to work, Mr. Hirayama plays rock n roll music, and his choice varies from The Animals to The Velvet Underground to Lou Reed to The Rolling Stones, which clearly indicates he is a man of sublime taste. The film does eventually confirm that he does, indeed, have a great collection of old cassettes.
Does Takashi Manage To Woo Aya?
Mr. Hirayama’s much younger co-worker, Takashi, comes late to work and doesn’t clean the toilet as diligently as his senior colleague and supervisor does. He dreams of finding love with this girl, Aya, who works at a hostess bar. Thanks to his bike breaking down on a day when he’s supposed to give Aya a lift to the bar, Takashi begs Mr. Hirayama to lend him his car. The three of them ride together to Aya’s work, Takashi driving and Aya beside him, with Mr. Hirayama cramming up in the backseat. They listen to Patti Smith’s “Redondo Beach,” which Aya really seems to dig.
Seeing Mr. Hirayama with such a prestigious collection of old cassettes, Takashi drags him to a shop and begs him to sell some of his collection, which would earn him a ridiculous amount of money. Takashi wants a cut of it because he believes that in order to impress Aya and have any chance with her, he needs to be cash-rich. Mr. Hirayama refuses to sell the cassettes, but hands him all the money he had in his wallet, taking pity on him. Later on, Takashi calls Mr. Hirayama, thanks him, and then quits.
Aya randomly visits Mr. Hirayama one more time, only to return the Patti Smith cassette, which Takashi slid into her bag the other day. She asks about Takashi and gets no answer from Mr. Hirayama. Before leaving, she requests that he play the song one last time for her. The two vibe to “Redondo Beach” sitting inside the car. Then, Aya leaves with a sudden kiss on Mr. Hirayama’s cheek. Although the film doesn’t quite make things clear, we can make the assumption that things between Takashi and Aya don’t work out, which is not particularly surprising. I would say Aya actually liked Takashi which was evident from how she enquired about Takashi. But for him she was more of a prize to achieve, which led to the friction and eventual heartbreak.
Does Mr. Hirayama Win The Tic-Tac-Toe Game?
It’s admirable how Perfect Days manages to balance its different story arcs, every single one related to Mr. Hirayama, in a seamless manner. While cleaning one of the toilets one day, Mr. Hirayama finds a piece of paper with the initiation of a tic-tac-toe game. Instead of throwing the paper away, he decides to continue the game by playing a turn each day and returning the paper to the same place. The game goes on for days and ends in a draw. But the opponent leaves a smiley face and a thank-you note (on the same paper) for Mr. Hirayama, which makes him a winner, at least in my book.
How Does Niko’s Sudden Arrival Affect Mr. Hirayama’s Life?
One day after returning from work, Mr. Hirayama finds his teenage niece, Niko, waiting at his doorstep. It’s evident that he’s seeing her after a long time. Leaving the only room in his apartment to Niko and sleeping in the closet during the night might seem like a discomfort, but we soon realize that Mr. Hirayama actually likes that Niko is here. It’s not that he was doing terribly living alone; in fact, it was just the opposite, I would say, but Niko’s presence in his life does add a zing to it, which he probably hadn’t felt in years. What further helps is Niko’s inquisitive nature. She keeps accompanying her uncle to his work, asks him about his photography, and wants to know whether he considers the trees his friends or not. He lends her books to read, gets baffled when she asks about his cassettes and utters unfamiliar words like “Spotify,” introduces her to Van Morrison, and clicks photos of her. But the joy is short-lived as Niko’s mother soon arrives, thanks to Mr. Hirayama doing the responsible thing of calling his sister. Considering how she keeps mentioning finding this character Victor from Patricia Highsmith’s short story “The Terrapin” relatable, it was not particularly hard to figure out that she had a falling out with her (possibly) uptight mother and came to take refuge at her uncle’s. In case you’re wondering, in the story, Victor is incredibly frustrated at his mother for not acknowledging that he’s growing up, and that he has opinions and desires, with that frustration building to a point where it becomes unbearable.
Mr. Hirayama and his sister have a brief conversation, where she asks how he’s doing and if he would like to visit their ailing father. He refuses and hugs her goodbye. It’s not that the siblings don’t care for one another, but they clearly don’t belong to the same world. But Niko, on the other hand, might belong to both as we will never get to know whether she will be able to see the ocean with his beloved uncle, though, as the phrase “next time” often remains elusive.
What Do We Know About Mr. Hirayama’s Life?
Not only do I have zero issues with a story not revealing much about its main character, but I actually find it quite fascinating. This gives us the chance to make our own interpretation, and there can always be more than one. With that said, I did get curious about Mr. Hirayama while watching him go through his days, which, I suppose, is a natural thing. While the film doesn’t put everything in front of us, from what we do get, it can be said that he probably belongs to an affluent family. However, he never wanted to be part of a family business or had any other significant ambition, which led him to become estranged from his family. From what his sister says, we do realize that, at some point in time, Mr. Hirayama’s father badly insulted him for his life choices, and he still carries the scar. What I really liked here was his choice not to look back. This implies that the man has really moved on from his past, which can be a lesson for many of us. Mr. Hirayama might be the black sheep of his family, but in our story, he’s definitely a role model. All of this is mostly assumption, but that’s what we’re doing here, right?
Why Does Mr. Hirayama Hang Out With The Bar Owner’s Ex-Husband?
Among the many things we see the man doing on his days off, one of the most significant is frequenting a bar, which has this middle-aged owner. She seems like a friendly person who really likes the presence of Mr. Hirayama. There’s a hint of romance between these two, but the story never attempts to explore it, which, in my opinion, is a great creative decision.
However, after Niko leaves, Mr. Hirayama falls into a state of depression. What is even more sad is that he has to work a double shift due to Takashi bailing on him last mintute resulting in the company failing to find a replacement. Alone and frustrated with how life has turned sour lately, Mr. Hirayama expectedly ends up at the bar. It’s only human to seek the presence of a person we really like when nothing in life is going well for us. He finds the bar closed and patiently waits for the lady to come. But his heart breaks when he sees her embracing another man. In one of the saddest scenes of the film, we find Mr. Hirayama at the bank of the river, with cans of beer and packs of cigarettes. He is probably not a regular smoker, as he soon starts coughing. Right at this moment, he sees the same man the bar owner had embraced a while ago standing beside him, looking for a cigarette. He explains that they felt his presence, and he’s here to make things clear. The man happens to be the ex-husband of the lady, who went to see her because he has been recently diagnosed with cancer. He requests that Mr. Hirayama look after her, to which he replies that they don’t really have such a relationship.
The scene could have just ended here, but then the cancer-stricken man starts to talk about how he regrets not knowing so many things in this life. As strange as it might sound, one of those happens to be whether shadows get darker when they merge or not. It’s not surprising that a man like Mr. Hirayama would make it a point to help the dying man find the answer immediately. The two bond over their shadow merger and then play a game of shadow tag. What started as a scene of sorrow ended up being the most wholesome scene of the movie.
What Happens To Mr. Hirayama In The End?
The title Perfect Days seems fitting for the film, as it primarily shows us that we don’t really need much to make our days “perfect.” Of course, it is from the perspective of a person who is pretty content with what he has, but isn’t that the whole point of this film? The homeless man that Mr. Hirayama keeps seeing throughout the film might just be a symbol of achieving contentment in limited things. It can as well be said that Mr. Hirayama sees his own reflection in the man.
Perfect Days should also be applauded for showing the importance of art and culture, of any form, in terms of finding joy in life. For Mr. Hirayama, it seems to be as simple as clicking pictures of the light shining through the leaves during lunch hours. And speaking of pictures, we see Mr. Hirayama regularly visiting the studio to get his photos developed and put a new set of film in his camera. This is something we don’t see many people doing in this world, especially for a tech-savvy person like myself. This seems like an almost alien ritual. But this film, as well as the character, are a testament to pursuing art in any way you feel comfortable and not being shy about it. Not only do we get to see Mr. Hirayama develop his photos, but we also get to see how beautifully he keeps the good ones in numbered boxes while tearing up the not-so-good ones. It also becomes clear to us that the monochromatic transitions between the days are actually photos clicked by Mr. Hirayama, whose only intention is to preserve memorabilia, which is the purest way you can pursue the art of photography. I’m sure Mr. Hirayama neither knows about Instagram nor cares about it.
The only way Perfect Days could end is the way it began. It’s not a movie where life-altering things happen. Mr. Hirayama’s life remains basically the same as another work day kicks off. At the very end of the film, we see him waking up, following the usual routine of brushing, getting the coffee out of the vending machine, and then driving to work. The song he plays this time is Nina Simone’s version of “Feeling Good,” inarguably the most iconic version of all. As it keeps playing, the camera zooms in on Mr. Hirayama’s face, and we realize that it’s not a usual day as the man is actually crying. What happened in the last few days has taken a toll on him. But then we see the familiar smile back on his face, which assures us that our man is going to be alright. That’s where Wenders chooses to leave us, and I don’t think Perfect Days could have an ending that is more perfect than this one. Not to mention, this film being the official entry in the “Best International Feature” category from a country like Japan makes all the sense in the world.