Few directors are as downright international as the great Wim Wenders. The German filmmaker has traveled the continents, making movies in German, Spanish, English, Portuguese, Italian, French, and Japanese, sometimes all in the same film. Focusing on people who are often traveling or in a state of transit, Wenders is a master of road movies, epitomizing the notion that ‘movement is freedom.’ His five-hour masterpiece, Until the End of the World, literally travels the globe, and his early German films ars often referred to as ‘The Road Trilogy.’
After six years of making documentaries, Wim Wenders has now directed another fiction film, but it is so organic, so natural a character study, that it practically transcends fiction. Perfect Days, co-written with producer Takuma Takasaki, follows the mundane daily activities of a quiet older man who works as a public toilet attendant and maintains a simple, habitual existence.
In the past decade, Tokyo has constructed a variety of public toilets that are remarkably beautiful, small architectural oases, and Wenders was invited to do a project about them. Instead of a documentary, this ultimately turned into a study of simplicity, with lead character Hirayama (played by Kōji Yakusho, who won Best Actor at Cannes for the role) finding joy in our everyday banality. Wenders and Takasaki spoke with MovieWeb about the film.
Wim Wenders Asks, ‘Shouldn’t We Start Living Differently?’
- Release Date
- February 7, 2024
- Kôji Yakusho , Tokio Emoto , Arisa Nakano , Aoi Yamada
- 2hr 3min
- Master Mind, Wenders Images
Perfect Days could’ve easily been a very different film. Studying a low-income older man who cleans toilets could’ve invited a kind of neo-realistic misery à la the Brothers Dardenne or the saddest Vittorio De Sica films. Instead, Wenders’ movie is a beautiful look at contentment and even wonderment. We asked Wenders why he chose to focus on joy.
There wouldn’t have been any purpose in making a film about an unhappy man, especially
after the pandemic
, and especially after everything we all went through. And all of us, in all these two and a half years or whatever it took, always thought, ‘Shouldn’t we start living differently afterward?’ And we wanted to show a man who did live differently and, essentially, lived happily.
“There is no use showing another depressed person in movies, because you come out of the movie and see so many of them,” continued Wenders. “So, we wanted to make a film that was a little bit of a utopia, but had also a sense of reality to it. And Tokyo was the perfect place for it.”
Takasaki answered the same question through a translator — why choose joy, and why did they think that would work? “There are two things. The first thing is, I remember in the early stages when Kōji and Wim were talking about the script and the story, and then right afterward Kōji whispered in my ear. He said, ‘I have a feeling this is going to turn out to be really beautiful.’ And that really hit me, and I was like, ‘Okay, we’re on the right track, and I also have a feeling like this is going to be a beautiful story.’ But having said that, it’s not written, as is, as a beautiful story.” Takasaki continued:
“I think when the moment of realization of what is beautiful presents itself, or that we can tell the story of what is beautiful, that’s when the viewer realizes and feels that there’s a beautiful story behind us all. So I think what we ended up doing is that we made that realization into the story. We basically extracted what maybe most people have not seen or felt or realized yet before as ‘beautiful.'”
A German in Japan
“When I first came to Tokyo, I felt at home,” explained Wenders tenderly. “Of course, I had seen some movies also, but nothing justified that feeling of being home, and it troubled me ever since. Why do I feel so much at home? Why do I feel so much like I am who I am if I’m here in Tokyo?” He continued:
“And then slowly it dawned on me, on another movie I was doing with Yohji Yamamoto. He was born two years before me, and we bonded like brothers on this film. And we realized we had the same childhood, he as a Japanese boy, and me as a German boy, and we went through the same experiences. We not only listened to the same music, but we lived the same life, of a culture that was in shock, and another culture, American culture, that we liked and that we accepted as a pleasant alternative.”
“And so we had these very same experiences, and we lived our lives in a very similar way, because the basic conditions were so much the same,” said Wenders. “So I have had that feeling ever since, and ever since I also felt that the Japanese have this deep sense of solidarity, and this deep sense of that what is good for you has to be also good for others. Because if it’s only good for you, then it can’t be that good. And this is something I really adore in Japan. The feeling of social responsibility that is innate in every act.”
You Learn More About Yourself Through Someone Else’s Eyes
Just as Wim Wenders learned more about himself through the Japanese, writer Takuma Takasaki learned more about himself and Japanese culture and filmmaking through the eyes of the German Wenders. If there is a ‘purpose’ to Perfect Days, it is to show how there is beauty and joy to be found in ordinary, forgotten things. That message became a living one for Takasaki, as Wenders’ passion for Japan reignited Takasaki’s own understanding of his home country.
“First and foremost, Wim is my favorite film director, and I never dreamt that one day I would actually get to work together alongside him creating a film,” said Takasaki. “So it’s not just an honor, but he’s my favorite. I see a lot of things through him. And [Yasujiro] Ozu, as you mentioned, there’s an element and an essence that exists in him that also exists in Wim. And by me working with Wim on this project, I have now sort of understood Ozu even more through Wim, which is kind of an interesting twist here.”
The 30 Best International Movies of 2023, Ranked
From drama to comedy and everything in between, the world of ‘foreign film’ has produced the most amazing movies of 2023.
Takasaki hopes that Japanese audiences will see the country with new eyes, the way he has through making this film with Wenders. “But I think that is actually happening hopefully with our viewers back in Japan and our country, because we’re talking about different generations of people.”
So I think what Wim brought to me is that he’s actually making me remember and maybe realize something that I have even forgotten about our own great film directors from our own country. And so it’s an interesting twist here, but he has given me that gift to realize the beauty in all of it.
Yasujiro Ozu and Wim Wenders’ Favorite Films of 2023
Perfect Days is one of the best films of 2023. With the year freshly over, we were curious what other films Wenders and Takasaki loved in 2023. “I was impressed by a number of films. I was impressed by the French film, Anatomy of a Fall. I must say, it is an amazing story about the idea of truth. Very, very well written, beautifully played,” said Wenders, who continued:
“And I was very, very taken by the part played by Sandra Hüller, a German actress who is in this movie, and she was great. She made me really cry, and I really felt for her, and I really thought about the nature of truth through this film. And she’s in another film that I also liked a lot, The Zone of Interest, but she plays such a different character. And for me, the revelation of this year, 2023, was this woman in two such different movies, and I liked them both because of the truth that she was able to bring to the screen.”
“Well, there were obviously a lot of films released in 2023,” added Takasaki. “But it also happens to be the 120th anniversary of the birth of Ozu. And so what I did was spend a lot of time rewatching 40 of his films in the year 2023. And I think out of all the 40 that I watched, I think Late Spring is my favorite. So I know it’s not a newly released film, but a digital remaster of Late Spring by Ozu is my favorite film of the year.”
That’s a masterpiece that’s hard to beat, but when it comes to films released in 2023, Perfect Days tops most. From NEON, Perfect Days is now in theaters.