From American road trips to modern dance and the pope, German director Wim Wenders’ films are nothing if not eclectic, and his latest inspiration is Tokyo’s public toilets.
The giant of European cinema is making a film about an urban renewal project in which top architects are transforming 17 dingy downtown loos into works of art.
They include one toilet with colourful see-through cubicles that turn opaque when the door is locked, and another with wooden panels by Olympic Stadium designer Kengo Kuma.
All of the eye-catching new facilities in the capital’s Shibuya district are free, wheelchair-accessible and kept sparklingly clean by a team of maintenance workers.
“There is something very Japanese about the idea, about the whole setting. And I almost think it’s a utopian idea,” Wenders said at a press conference on Wednesday.
“Because a toilet is a place where everybody is the same. There’s no rich and poor, no old and young, everybody’s part of humanity.”
Wenders, 76, has built a cult following with his arthouse films including “Wings of Desire”, “Buena Vista Social Club” and “Paris, Texas”.
The director said he was approached by the organisers of the renovation project, called “The Tokyo Toilet”, who inspired him to make the film featuring four short stories and starring actor Koji Yakusho as a cleaner.
“I love architecture. In another life, I’d certainly want to be an architect,” Wenders said.
He said he is particularly happy to be working with renowned architect Tadao Ando, 80, whose gleaming circular toilet has thin slats that let in fresh air as people wash their hands.
“I was so glad when I saw his toilet the other day, and saw how he worked with the light… I thought, ‘this is a precious place.’”
It is not Wenders’ first time in Japan: his 1985 film “Tokyo-Ga” is a homage to the city of cinematic master Yasujiro Ozu, and he made a documentary in the late 1980s about fashion designer Yohji Yamamoto.
So far, 12 of Tokyo’s 17 new toilets have been finished and are in use, mostly in parks and next to stations.
Ando told reporters that in many countries, “public toilets are not considered something beautiful.”
“So, I thought that these magnificent toilets could convey a sense of Japan’s beauty to people from around the world.”