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Tokyo's public toilets inspire Wim Wenders

Dagmar Breitenbach
May 12, 2022

The German director is making a film about public restrooms designed by renowned architects. The high-end toilets are the symbol of "Japan's world-renowned hospitality culture."

Square transparent building in purple, orange and pink, a person inside one cubicle , cleaning
The cubicles are transparent — until they are occupied Image: Kyodo News/IMAGO

"The Tokyo Toilet" is an urban renewal project through which 17 public toilets in the Japanese capital are being turned into veritable works of art by architects from around the world.

A dozen toilets are already finished and open to the public, including restrooms with colorful transparent cubicles that made headlines two years ago.

A woman stands next to green and blue panels of glass
The transparent toilets were designed by Shigeru BanImage: Toru Hanai/AFLO/IMAGO

The facilities in Tokyo's Shibuya district are free of charge, wheelchair-accessible and kept immaculate by a team of cleaning staff.

They will also soon be immortalized in film. 

"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," Wim Wenders said at a press conference Wednesday announcing he agreed to make a film about the Tokyo Toilet project after being approached by its organizers. 

A red building along a railroad track, apartment buildings in the background
Nao Tamura designed 'three separate spaces that redefine the way a public toilet establishes personal space'Image: Yoshitaka Nishi/AP Photo/picture alliance

"There is something very Japanese about the idea, about the whole setting. And I almost think it's a Utopian idea," the award-winning German film director told reporters.

Hospitality culture

"I love architecture," added the 76-year-old director, renowned for works such as "Wings of Desire," "Buena Vista Social Club" and "Paris, Texas." "In another life, I'd certainly want to be an architect." 

Wim Wenders, a man wearing round blue glasses, smiles while holding his hands together. A masked woman is in the background, her eyes closed.
Wim Wenders is inspired by the high-end designsImage: Shuji Kajiyama/AP/dpa/picture alliance

He said he is particularly happy to be working with renowned architect Tadao Ando, 80, who devised a circular toilet with 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 classy place.'"

A man walks next to modern cylindrical public toilet.
Architect Tadao Ando designed a cylindrical public restroom near Shibuya StationImage: Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images

Wenders has already directed films in Japan in the past: His 1985 documentary "Tokyo-Ga" paid tribute to cinematic master Yasujiro Ozu, while "Notebooks on Cities and Clothes" (1988-1989) was about fashion designer Yohji Yamamoto.

A person heads into an entrance of a modern concrete structure.
This design, called 'Wonderwall,' is by Masamichi KatayamaImage: Yoshitaka Nishi/AP Photo/picture alliance

The upcoming feature film will bring together four short stories, and will star renowned Japanese actor Koji Yakusho in the role of a toilet cleaner.

Filming in Japan is to take place this year, the launch is planned for 2023.

Edited by: Elizabeth Grenier

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