Veteran German director Wim Wenders broke new ground during the Oscar nominations on Tuesday morning when he was nominated for his Japanese-language drama Perfect Days in the best international feature category.
This isn’t Wenders’ first Oscars rodeo. The 78-year-old German director has three Academy Award nominations to his name but all have come in the best documentary category. He was nominated in 2000 for the music doc Buena Vista Social Club about aging Cuban street musicians; in 2012 for Pina, a groundbreaking 3D documentary tribute to the work of legendary dance choreographer Pina Bausch; and in 2015 for The Salt of the Earth, a portrait of famed Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado, co-directed with Salgado’s son, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado. Perfect Days does, however, mark Wenders’ first-ever Oscar nomination for a drama.
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“It’s a bit ironic to be nominated for a Japanese-language film but at the same time a great honor for me as Japan is the country of Yasujirô Ozu, who is my declared cinematic master,” says Wenders. “This feels like a huge bow to Mr. Ozu. Representing Japan is a deep honor for me.”
A minimalist drama about a middle-aged toilet cleaner in Tokyo who finds meaning in his quotidian routines and simple pleasures, Perfect Days has been winning over audiences and critics since its debut in Cannes last year, where lead Koji Yakusho won the best actor honor. Far from any accusations of cultural appropriation, Japanese audiences have embraced the movie. Perfect Days made history as the first film not directed by a Japanese filmmaker to be Oscar-nominated for Japan.
“Frankly, I did not expect that,” says Wenders about Japan putting Perfect Days up as its official contender for the Academy Awards. “Then, I realized it was really because the Japanese love Koji Yakusho very much, he’s a truly beloved actor. His winning best actor in Cannes was a national event, the ceremony was repeatedly shown on Japanese television. So, I think it was Koji who was nominated, and I was the directing sidekick.”
There’s still plenty of German representation at this year’s Oscars, with two German-language films among the five best international feature contenders: Jonathan Glazer’s The Zone of Interest and Ilker Çatak’s The Teachers Lounge. J.A. Bayona’s Spanish-language survival tale Society of the Snow and Matteo Garrone’s refugee drama Io Capitano from Italy are also in the running.
“My first call was to Ilker to congratulate him,” says Wenders, who said he crossed paths with the debut director multiple times during the festival and awards season as they were promoting their respective films. “We always wished each other good luck and said the best thing would be if we both made it. And we did.”
Wenders said he’s particularly happy that German actress Sandra Hüller was also nominated on Tuesday, scoring a best actress nom for her starring role in Justine Triet’s Anatomy of a Fall.
“That was my first question when I was informed about the nominations: ‘Did Sandra make it’?” he says. “I’m really proud of her.”
Perfect Days is distributed by Neon and will bow in U.S. theaters on Feb. 7.
The 96th Oscars will air live on ABC coast to coast on Sunday, March 10, at the Dolby Theatre at Ovation Hollywood in a new earlier time slot (7-10:30 p.m. ET/4-7:30 p.m. PT). A 30-minute pre-show will lead into the live show (6:30-7 p.m. ET/3:30-4 p.m. PT). Jimmy Kimmel will return to host the Oscars for a fourth time.
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