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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 takes home the prestigious Japanese prize for his contribution to cinema
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.
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.
A filmmaker and photographer, artist, music lover and much more: Wim Wenders, who was born on August 14, 1945 in Düsseldorf, released his first feature film, “Summer in the City,” 50 years ago. Here’s a look at some at the director’s most memorable works.
The image of Travis (Harry Dean Stanton) walking in the Texan desert on his way to nowhere became part of film history. “Paris, Texas,” is a German film set in the United States in a dreamlike desert landscape. It helped pave the way for the success of director Wim Wenders. It wowed audiences around the world and won him the Golden Palm at the 1984 Cannes film festival.
Actress Nastassja Kinski played the role of her life in “Paris, Texas.” Performances such as hers helped make the film a success and turn Wenders into a big name in the international film scene. The West German director continually reinvented himself and was also celebrated for his documentary films.
A big fan of American cinema, Wenders traveled to the US in 1977 to shoot several movies, yet it wasn’t the experience he had hoped for. He didn’t want to integrate himself into the Hollywood system and considered himself an artist more than a commissioned director. Yet his 1982 Hollywood film “Hammett,” which tells the story of crime writer Dashiell Hammett, is still one of his top works.
That same year, in 1982, Wenders directed another memorable film: “The State of Things.” It featured legendary US director Sam Fuller (pictured) as one of the cast. In it, Wenders processed his experiences as a director and described the hardships of the film business. For Wenders, the movie was a form of liberation and paved the way for his most successful years.
After winning the Golden Lion in Venice for “The State of Things,” Wenders had one success after another. In Cannes, he received the Golden Palm for “Paris, Texas,” and three years later in 1987 came his best-known film to date: “Wings of Desire.” Starring Otto Sander (pictured right) and Bruno Ganz, the film about an angel in love is set in still-divided Berlin.
Wenders had long been directing before he became a festival darling who churned out hits. As a young filmmaker, he shot films in Germany in black and white with a minimal budget. His sensitive 1974 film, “Alice in the Cities,” about a writer who strikes up an unlikely friendship with a young girl (played by Yella Rottländer), is considered the director’s real breakthrough.
One year later, he released “Wrong Move,” another collaboration with his friend, author Peter Handke, who won the Nobel Prize in 2019 and co-wrote several films with Wenders. “Wrong Move” is about a budding writer (Rüdiger Vogeler) who travels through Germany, making friends and having once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
In 1976, Wenders released “Kings of the Road,” which launched him into the annals of fame as a director of the New German Cinema movement. Melancholic and dreamy, with characters that had never been seen before in German cinema, the movie shot in black and white goes on a three-hour minimalist journey like no other.
In 1977, the film “The American Friend” followed, which indicated where director Wim Wenders’ journey would later take him: to the USA. With lead actors Bruno Ganz (left) and “Easy Rider” star Denis Hopper, Wenders shot a crime story about art fraud, male bonding and the dream of another life, far away from home.
Beyond the films that made him a major figure of the New Cinema Movement, Wenders also became famous later in his career for his documentary features. The documentary “Buena Vista Social Club,” about a group of senior Cuban musicians, ravished the world in 1999.
In the years that followed, Wim Wenders didn’t manage to achieve the artistic intensity of his early career with his feature films, but his documentary films found international acclaim. As for “Buena Vista Social Club,” the director also received an Oscar nomination for the 3D documentary “Pina” (2011) about the legendary dance troupe of the choreographer Pina Bausch.
Another Oscar-nominated work, the 2014 documentary film “The Salt of the Earth” about the life of Brazilian photographer Sebastiao Salgado won over critics and the public. With this film, Wenders, who is also a photographer who has exhibited internationally, once again proved that he is more than an average film director — and is an aficionado of multiple art forms.
Wim Wenders is still churning out first-rate flicks. Two recent feature films, “Every Thing Will Be Fine” (2015) and “Submergence” (2017, with Alicia Vikander, pictured) show that Wenders still has a love affair with dreamlike cinematic narratives, seemingly weightless images, and stories about people in tricky situations.
Author: Jochen Kürten (sh)
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.
Wenders is now making a film based on Tokyo’s public toilets designed by famous architects
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.
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This article was originally written in German.
“Tin Drum” director Volker Schlöndorff’s new film is about “alternative Nobel” winner Tony Rinaudo, an Australian scientist who helped reforest many parts of Africa’s Sahel region.  
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.”
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