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Wim Wenders wins the 2022 Praemium Imperiale

Torsten Landsberg
September 15, 2022

The German director took home the prestigious Japanese prize that's been dubbed the "Nobel Prize of the Arts." A look back at his influential career.

Wim Wenders claps and smiles.
Wim Wenders takes home the prestigious Japanese prize for his contribution to cinemaImage: Shuji Kajiyama/AP/dpa/picture alliance

Japan's Praemium Imperiale is one of the world's most important art prizes. Since its founding in 1988, it has been given out by the Japan Art Association to artists and musicians at the top of their careers in five different categories each year. The award is so prestigious it is sometimes referred to as the "Nobel Prize of the Arts." German filmmaker Wim Wenders is among the 2022 winners, which were announced on Thursday.

A figurehead of New German Cinema

Born in Düsseldorf in 1945, Wim Wenders is one of the best known founding fathers of the movement known as New German Cinema, which revitalized the country's post-war filmmaking with new stories, formats and narrative styles from the 1960s onwards. The movement also included directors Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Werner Herzog and Volker Schlöndorff.

Wenders' 1984 road movie, "Paris, Texas," won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, while the 1987 work "Wings of Desire" is considered a masterpiece of auteur cinema.

In the 1990s, Wenders accompanied US musician Ry Cooder and the Cuban musicians of the Buena Vista Social Club on tour with his camera, filming a much-acclaimed documentary of the same name in 1999.

From New German Cinema to Tokyo's Toilets

Beyond winning the prestigious Japanese award, Wenders has developed a special relationship with Japan over the decades.

His 1985 documentary "Tokyo-Ga" is a tribute to filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu, and in "Notebook on Cities and Clothes" from 1989 he devoted himself to Japanese fashion designer Yohji Yamamoto.

Earlier in 2022, Wenders announced he would be making a feature film about Japanese public restrooms. The upcoming feature film, to be shot in Japan this year, will bring together four short stories, and will star renowned Japanese actor Koji Yakusho in the role of a toilet cleaner.

The fictional movie is based on a current project in the Japanese capital called "The Tokyo Toilet" — an urban renewal project through which 17 public toilets in the Japanese capital are being turned into works of art by star architects from around the world, including Tadao Ando. "There is something very Japanese about the idea, about the whole setting. And I almost think it's a utopian idea," Wenders told reporters back in May.

 A photo shows someone walking into a stylish public toilet made by combining concrete walls.
Wenders is now making a film based on Tokyo's public toilets designed by famous architectsImage: Yoshitaka Nishi/AP Photo/picture alliance

€100,000 in prize money

Beyond Wenders, this year's other prizewinners are Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, Italian painter Giulio Paolini, Polish pianist Krystian Zimerman and Japanese architecture firm SANAA.

The Kronberg Academy foundation based in Taunus, which trains young string musicians from all over the world, was awarded a scholarship for young artists.

The Praemium Imperiale was established by the Japanese Imperial Family to commemorate Prince Takamatsu, who died in 1987.

The categories include painting, sculpture, architecture, music and theater/film, with each winner receiving 15 million yen (currently around $104,500, 105,000€).

In 2021 no prize winner was named in the film/directing category due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The prize was also not awarded in 2020 for the same reason.

Previous winners include director Martin Scorsese, artist James Turrell, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, Sofia Loren, the recently deceased director Jean-Luc Godard and architects such as Norman Foster and Rem Koolhaas, fashion designer Issey Miyake and photo artist Cindy Sherman..

Wim Wenders and the story of his life

This article was originally written in German.