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IN THE CINÉMA CLUB OF… WIM WENDERS

The New German Cinema pioneer Wim Wenders has established himself as one of contemporary cinema’s foremost poets over the course of a five decade career due to his continued investigation of film’s emotional depths and technological limits. In 1984, he won the Palme d’Or for his heartrending desert drama Paris, Texas. Three years later, he won Best Director at Cannes for Wings of Desire, a fantastical film about an angel who falls in love with a trapeze artist. His ongoing exploration of life’s minor dramas in fiction filmmaking and routine habit of making documentaries about major contemporary artists — Notebooks on Cities and Clothes, Pina, Anselm — attest to his boundless curiosity about art-making and its inspirations.

 

His newest Oscar-nominated film follows a few days in the life of a toilet cleaner in Tokyo. To celebrate the film’s US release, Wenders shared a list of nine films he considered relevant to Perfect Days.

TOKYO STORY, Yasujiro Ozu, 1953

That was the first film by Ozu that I saw. It drastically changed my perception of what films could be: not just a description of the physical world, but a transcendence of everyday life. We take it for granted that movies present “characters” or “heroes,” that they give an image of “mankind,” certainly of “family life” or “life” in general, that they can tell “His Story” with a capital H, but also just plain “stories.” But we do rarely ask ourselves what men and women really represent in movies, and what kind of life those moving pictures actually expose. In Ozu’s kingdom I learned that films can get very close to “real life” and that they can reveal the very soul and being of people. And that these people are not “functions” of a story, but the other way round: these people, as they live their life, create their own story. Which is a fundamental difference. In life as well as in movies. The elderly man in Tokyo Story, played by Chishu Ryū, was called “Hirayama”, by the way, and this is why we gave the same name to our central character in Perfect Days.

AN AUTUMN AFTERNOON, Yasujiro Ozu, 1962

This is Ozu’s last film. It is amazingly funny and light and continues Ozu’s life-long obsession of noticing and representing each and every change in Japanese society, almost like a seismograph. Here, too, Chishu Ryū is the main character, and he is also called Hirayama…

NOMADLAND, Chloé Zhao, 2020

A true wonder of a film, largely because of who Frances McDormand represents in the film: a real person, a free woman, a nomad. High up on my list of my favorite road movies. She’s definitely a distant cousin to Hirayama…

SALT OF THE EARTH, Herbert Biberman, 1954

Another miracle. Realized against all odds by a blacklisted director, written by a blacklisted writer, produced by a blacklisted producer. The story is based on a zinc miners’ strike that actually took place in New Mexico in 1951. Again, the great and moving event of the film is its “leading lady,” Mexican actress Rosaura Revueltas, who makes you believe you are watching a documentary on her life. (And that is why the film came to my mind: we also made Perfect Days in that spirit of shooting a fictional character as if she/he was a real person and we were doing a documentary on him.)

A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE, John Cassavetes, 1974

Words fail me to describe the performance of Gena Rowlands as the mother and housewife who has a drinking problem. And her husband, played by Peter Falk, is just as real and strong and lost. It is both disturbing and deeply gratifying how closely this drama comes to the reality of an affliction that is so common to so many families worldwide: alcohol.

AU HASARD BALTHAZAR, Robert Bresson, 1966

Now the hero of this film is not a person, but a donkey, and the women and men in it are all the “supporting cast.” If there is a filmic masterpiece on the subject of violence, it is this one. That topic obviously has a long tradition in the history of cinema. But Bresson’s film does not have to depict violence as such in order to make us FEEL what it is. No film has taught me so much about compassion like this film about the life of a donkey. This is essential viewing, if you are willing to let a movie change the way you see the world. (No wonder that Paul Schrader in his book “Transcendental Style in Films” names Ozu and Bresson in one breath.)

FAHRENHEIT 451, François Truffaut, 1966

This is certainly one of my all-time favorite movies, and one of the rare masterpieces in the sci-fi genre along with 2001 and Blade Runner. I mention the film in this list mainly because of its love for books. Hirayama in Perfect Days seems as happy reading at the end of every work day as the “book people” in the magnificent ending of Fahrenheit 451. Like them, Hirayama could easily “become” one of his books, I feel, and quote for instance “Wild Palms” by William Faulkner by heart.

IKIRU, Akira Kurosawa, 1952

This is a movie about a bureaucrat who knows he’s about to die, but wants to do something good before he dies, and actually live, at least once. (That’s how the title translates: “To Live.”) Takashi Shimura plays this character in such a heartbreaking way that this old man and his will to leave something meaningful behind, will always stay engraved in your minds. Well, his life of doing a routine job is the opposite idea of how our main man Hirayama lives his “routine” in Perfect Days. In this regard, the two films couldn’t be further apart. I better leave it to you to find out what they might have in common, after all…

EASY RIDER, Dennis Hopper, 1969

I bring this film into this list here strictly for its – at the time – revolutionary use of music. I was electrified when I first saw Easy Rider as a film student, and as this experience coincided with me editing my first film that same year, Summer in the City, I found myself placing my favorite songs to my material in the editing room, amazed how each and every song would change the meaning of a scene. 50 years later, Perfect Days was a remote cousin to my earlier Road Movies. As Hirayama himself isn’t all that talkative, I felt that some of the songs he is putting into the cassette recorder of his crummy old van on his way to work, could contribute to telling his story; so we wrote most of the songs into the script already. (And that’s my salute to Easy Rider...) The frontispiece of our script were the lyrics to Nina Simone’s song “Feeling Good”, because I felt these words described the ability of Hirayama to live in the HERE AND NOW better than anything else. Finally, we ended the film with that song. “It’s a new day, it’s a new dawn, it’s a new life for me. And I’m feeling good!”