While in England, German director Wim Wenders was sandwiched between a press tour and a brief lunch when a member of his team walked into the restaurant to secretly signal across the room that he was nominated for his first feature film Oscar with Japan’s Best International Feature Film, Perfect Days. “Someone came in raising their thumb, which was the sign that we had agreed on, and no word was spoken because there were too many guests in the restaurant,” Wenders laughed while retelling the Tuesday nomination. “So, I knew then I could let that meal go a little cold. It was lovely because I had prepared myself to not expect anything. I had completely prepared myself to not be on the list so that I wouldn’t be disappointed. So [this nomination] was quite a surprise today.”
The film Perfect Days, co-written and directed by Wenders, tells the story of Hirayama (Kōji Yakusho), a humble toilet cleaner satisfied by the humdrum goings-on of life in Tokyo. Outside of his structured everyday routine, he enjoys his passion for music, books and minimalist lifestyle. He loves trees and takes photos of them. A series of unexpected encounters from his sister and niece reveals more of his past.
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Here, the European director shares what it’s like representing another foreign country, the meaning of minimalism and his Oscar nominations.
DEADLINE: As a German filmmaker, do you remember that initial conversation with the Japanese team when they selected your film as their official entry for the Oscars?
WIM WENDERS: Well, the Japanese producers and all my friends there said it is a possibility, but of course they couldn’t [guarantee]. It’s a committee that decides [what movies to choose and vote for]. But I thought I had no choice because I know from my time at Cannes and Venice there were a couple of great Japanese movies out there. So, when they actually then called me from Japan and said, “Sit down, we actually made it. The Japanese committee nominated our movie.” I was shocked a bit because, I mean, that’s been a place I hadn’t been in before. But then again, I was also quite proud because my declared master of cinema is the Japanese director Yasujirō Ozu. And being able to make a film in Japan and even be nominated for an Oscar for Japan seemed like a very important gesture towards Japanese cinema. And I’m happy that I’m part of that.
DEADLINE: Were you ever once worried about making such a hyper-specific film such as this? It seems to have paid off either way.
WENDERS: It seems so unlikely to become such a successful film. The way it’s doing now in Italy, Spain, Germany, and France is completely overwhelming [in addition to] the way audiences have accepted Hirayama and what he’s telling us about life. And so, I mean, we made quite an unusual film. The idea of making a film about a caretaker of toilets, or you might say more precisely about a toilet cleaner, didn’t seem like such a successful prospect. But on the other hand, I knew really well that there was something hidden in this film. And that in the very idea of the film, when we started to write it, there was something precious. And this was just after the pandemic, considering that I shot onset mostly, but during that all this time, we all lived in lockdowns and solitary states. I always thought, well, afterwards, humanity will start rethinking how we live, and we’ll all start living more consciously. But instead, afterwards, all hell broke loose, and we all lived more recklessly than ever before. Now, it was only when I came to Japan to just look at these toilets because there was a proposition maybe to do some documentary material on the architect and their creations I realized the way the lockdown had happened and the way people came back to take possession of their city was so different and was so civilized and so pleasant and so full of respect and so full of care. So, I was really moved, and that’s when the idea for this movie came up. And I realized behind the parts of the documentary about the toilets and their creators, there was some bigger story. And that’s what I suggested to the Japanese because they hadn’t invited me to find out if these places, these toilets, and this art project, which it was in the beginning, could inspire me.
It inspired me not to just do a documentary feature but to a story about a slightly different approach to life, a more modest approach, and a more reduced approach to owning so much stuff. I like the idea of a man who didn’t own so much, and that also is based on a few encounters I had in a couple of last years and meeting young people in New York, but also in Berlin and other European cities. There’s sort of a growing club, and it’s mainly young people who have started to realize, “I could live with less.” And it’s almost like, can you live with less than I do? And if you cannot put your belongings into a suitcase, you’re not part of the club. And these people who are really into this minimalism are frankly all it’s so cool, calm and collected and so nice, and have such bright eyes and know what they’re living for. So, I realized they’re onto something. And some of that came into this movie.
DEADLINE: And speaking of your documentary brain, while Perfect Days is your first feature film nomination, you’ve been nominated three times for your documentaries The Salt of the Earth, Pina and Buena Vista Social Club. And like you said, Perfect Days was originally conceptualized as a documentary. So, what is going through your mind for you to be here now with your first feature?
WENDERS: Well, if you look at my movies, you realize they’re all kind of reality-infused. And a lot of my fictional films try to infuse as much reality into them. Some of my methods were more of a documentary nature, and some of my documentary films included fictional elements like look at Pina, I mean, choreography is pure fiction. And there I was making a film in which I was basically, 90% of it was filming choreography, which is fiction. And even later, we did go into some fictional directions. So, I don’t know, I never made that clear distinction. I feel it’s a nice open field, and I’m happy that this film Perfect Days, which in the end does present a totally fictional character but incorporates some documentary elements. A long time ago, I had some German entries on the shortlist but not into nominations, so this is really my first time I’m entering the serious stage of nominations with a fiction.
The 96th Academy Awards are set to take place at the Dolby Theatre on March 10.
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