Now nominated for Best International Feature Film at the 96th Academy Awards, we have been fans of Perfect Days (review can be found here) for quite some time. It is certainly one of the most beautiful films of the year, and deserves to be seen by the masses. When given the chance to speak with director and co-writer Wim Wenders, we jumped at the opportunity. Below, you can find the transcribed interview wherein Wenders discusses the concept of repetition, how this film is different from the other films in his legendary career, and what he feels is a perfect day.
Alex Papaioannou: How are you doing today Wim?
Wim Wenders: I’m fine, Alex. And yourself?
AP: I’m doing well!
WW: Where are you sitting exactly? Where are you?
AP:I’m in my bedroom in my apartment in New York.
WW: In New York. Okay. Okay.
AP: So, the most pressing question. I have to know, did you have a favorite toilet when filming?
WW: I couldn’t help but love the toilet by the architect Shigeru Ban the most. They’re the ones that are transparent, and when you go inside and lock the door, they’re opaque. I really love those. In the beginning, I was a little scared of them. Then, when we started shooting, I loved what you could do with the light, and how the sun going through the trees reflects on all the glass windows. We loved shooting in them. And luckily, there were two of them with two different colors. So, I must admit, we spent more time in them than in the others because, visually, they were just mind-blowing. At first, the idea of a transparent toilet was just a little too much. In the beginning, you’re scared to enter. Then you realize that you feel so good in it, and it’s really a great experience. So that became a favorite.
AP: They’re beautiful, as is all the photography in this film. It’s gorgeous. And one thing I loved in particular is how it’s very repetitive by design. There’s beauty to be found when looking at the same image multiple times. So do you find life to be repetitive by nature? Or is that something you found while filming?
WW: [He pauses]. Well, repetition is an incredible thing in our lives because most of us go through a lot of repetitions in our daily routines. Of course, Hirayama does have a routine. And routine, for most of us, is a word with a negative taste. And a routine is something you want to get through as quickly as possible, or get rid of it, or not have to go through it in the first place. But Hirayama has a very positive approach to routine because he very much lives in the here and now. So the routine is always something new for him, and each time he cleans the toilet, he does it as if it was the first time. And like any good actor, an actor creatively is meant to look like he’s doing things for the first time. So Hirayama lives it very strongly, and he looks at his work very much like a craftsman. And a craftsman is the sort of person par excellence to deal with routine or to deal with repetition. A potter makes the same pot 100 times, but each time is anew. And if he’s a good potter, his whole morale is that each time, each thing is unique, and only exists once. So in all these ideas about acting and about crafts, people went into the idea of how Hirayama lives in the moment, and how he lives a simple service job like he does, and how he makes it something much bigger, and much more transparent.
AP: The film was shot in 17 days, right?
AP: That’s deeply impressive. So with that, one thing about Hirayama. Like you said, he’s incredibly meticulous day in and day out, even sometimes multiple times on the same toilet. But when you’re shooting something in such a short timeframe, did you find that there was the ability to be incredibly meticulous? Or did you have to go with the flow more on this type of shoot?
WW: One thing if you shoot fast, you know, there is not much slack. So for a character and for the actor, it’s perfect. The actor doesn’t have to get in and out of his trailer. There’s no coming back out and needing to find his character again. He’s always in it. We never stopped shooting. And actually, we had a trailer for Koji [Yakusho], but he never saw it. [Laughs]. Only on the last day at the end of the last shot of the film he said, “Wim, is it true that you have a trailer? Can I see it?” I said, “What do you mean can you see it?” And he said, “I’ve never been inside, let me just see. I just want to catch a look inside.” So if you are working so fast and so relentless, you do come into a great, great flow. And you’re with your actor more than usually. And then you realize, you have to do something that’s already in the script. And that is part of the essence of his character. He’s reduced his life tremendously, he is living with only the most necessary things, and he doesn’t have more than he actually uses. His apartment is pretty empty, and he only has the essentials. So we realized as a film crew, we had to also just reduce ourselves to the essentials. So we eliminated all the fancy things you normally have at your disposal. No tracks, no Dolly, no crane, no Steadicam, no gimbal. Just nothing. Just a camera on the shoulders of the DoP [Director of Photography Franz Lustig]. And that’s how we made the film. And because we’re shooting so directly, and because Hirayama was always on set, Koji became the character so radically. So in the end, we also became radical, and after a few days, we started to shoot the rehearsals. No more rehearsing and then shooting. So more and more, we actually made a film with documentary methods about a very fictional character. And that is something I’ve never done in my life. And that’s one of the reasons why we could actually get away with a schedule like 17 days.
AP: Incredible. One more thing I’m also curious to know about involves the soundtrack. It’s phenomenal. It’s also a bit of a tongue-in-cheek play on the song “Perfect Day [by Lou Reed].” So I’m curious: in your eyes, what is a perfect day?
WW: A perfect day is certainly a day in which you’re not too lazy. [Laughs]. Laziness is a beautiful thing, but I’m just not good at it. I like doing things, and I like it if a day is full of things that you are happy to do, and you’re able to do them with your full concentration. That gives you a certain satisfaction. A good day and a perfect day is a day in which you see things that satisfy you. And a good day is certainly a day in which you have some time to listen to music and read a book. A good day is basically a day full of work that, at the end of the day, you have done what you wanted to do. You have met people and you have been in contact with them. You also know how to be alone. A good day is a day where you’re alone sometimes, and sometimes you’re with others. And those go with each other. And Hirayama is good at being alone. But he’s also good with others. He’s there. He sees them. For him, I mean, he sees more than others. He sees the homeless guy who’s invisible to everybody else. He sees them.
AP: That’s about as beautiful an answer as we can get, and I think it perfectly sums up the film. I think there’s no better way to end the discussion.
WW: Thank you, Alex. That’s very sweet of you. I wish you all the best.