How Wim Wenders’ “Perfect Days” Shows a Love for Music

Recently, I went to see Wim Wenders’ new film “Perfect Days.” You may be familiar with the director for his work on the movie “Paris, Texas,” which is widely regarded as a classic, featuring a spectacular performance from the late Harry Dean Stanton and sprawling shots of the Texas countryside.

“Perfect Days,” has the makings of a classic in its own right. It follows Hirayama, an aging man who feels content with his life cleaning toilets in Tokyo. He focuses on the quiet beauties in life, cultivating plants, listening to his cherished cassette tapes, and taking photos with his small point-and-shoot camera. Every moment of his day is carefully routinized, almost like a meditation, as the entire first hour of the movie follows his routines. However, encounters with other people and his estranged family leads him to reflect on his simple style of living.

One aspect of the movie that stuck out to me was Hirayama’s cassette tapes. He listens to one tape every day on the ride to and from work, and the music settles him. Hirayama has collected hundreds of tapes ranging from The Kinks to Otis Redding.

There’s a point in the film where his younger colleague, Takashi, needs a ride because his bike has broken down. Hirayama is forced to give Takashi and his moody girlfriend, Aya, a ride. While Takashi frets over his bike, Aya is drawn to the stack of cassette tapes on the dashboard. She picks up Patti Smith’s album “Horses,” and asks if she can play it.

Hirayama carefully inserts the tape. Sounds of Smith’s “Redondo Beach,” fill the air. Aya is starstruck. She nods her head along, she mimics Patti’s heightened and unique tone. Hirayama smiles past Takashi, who is detached from this intimate moment, straight at Aya. He recognizes in her, like himself, a quality which gravitates towards music like a lifeline.

Later on, Takashi pleads with Hirayama to sell the tapes for cash. They’re back in style now, he claims, and can sell for over two hundred yen. Takashi wants the money so he can go out chasing the disinterested Aya, who works as a waitress in a bar. He needs the cash to grab her attention.

Takashi can’t appreciate the music like he and Aya. The songs which define Hirayama’s life on carefully preserved cassettes are nothing more than something to be sold to his younger counterpart.

There’s a scene where Aya tracks Hirayama down once more and asks to listen to the tape again. She sings along as Hirayama sits there, staring in awe at her. It seems he’s found some sort of silent camaraderie. Towards the middle of the song, Aya shuts off the tape, gives him a quick kiss on the cheek, and runs off. She is thanking him for this introduction to Patti Smith. To the world of music which defines and helps us through moments of our lives.

More than Hirayama, I could identify with Aya. I can remember the first time I felt connected to music, on the way to school in the mornings with my Dad as he’d play Stevie Wonder and The Beatles and Bruce Springsteen. These albums, these songs, these artists, will always be special to me and give me a sense of nostalgia and peace. Aya’s discovery of something she can relate to and love is beautiful to watch unfold.

But more personally, I’ve had this exact experience with Patti Smith. I first became familiar with the singer in high school. Someone recommended to me her book “Just Kids,” which I became unhealthily obsessed with. My copy is filled with thousands of annotations and dog ears. But then, I heard the song “Frederick,” from her album “Wave,”  and I was hooked. Same as Aya, I sat in a trance, absolutely fixated.

“Perfect Days,” carefully captures the power of music as transformative and centering. It grounds Hirayama’s life as something comforting on the way to and from work, adding to the beauty of the world around him. Shots of sprawling, crowded highways and busy city centers become converted into something familiar and gorgeous with the addition of a good song.

One can easily imagine Aya at Hirayama’s age, listening to “Redondo Beach,” and singing just the same.

Music sticks with you forever like glue, changing your life, accentuating memories, drawing forth emotions. I’ll always have those songs my dad showed me attached to the image of us, happy, in the car. I’ll always have the discovery of “Frederick,” by Patti Smith, making life a bit more meaningful.

In “Perfect Days,” Wenders has expertly created a love letter to musicians and the art they create.

By Wordgirl

Between her time making playlists for future DJ sets, Wordgirl loves to watch movies and read books. You can find her hanging out with her cat, Mouse, and playing music too loud in her headphones.