Reporting TO the UN Headquarters on a brisk November morning to run a 5k is a blissful experience for precisely one reason: the opportunity to freshen up in Bryant Park’s well-attended bathrooms. In America’s major cities, including New York, an easy to access, continuously cleaned toilet is a veritable commodity that makes Birkins and Kellys look downright pedestrian. The best thing Equinox and New York’s three Soho Houses have to offer isn’t their communities—it’s their commodes. The Big Apple is by no means the only city impacted by a dearth of convenient public bathrooms, though it’s among the most vocal. San Francisco, which has become infamous for its $1.7 million single toilet proposal, is a close second.
In this light, it should come as little surprise that the Tokyo Toilet Project, which brought the city’s denizens well-maintained toilets by the likes of Shigeru Ban, Tadao Ando, and Kengo Kuma, is the muse behind Wim Wenders’ latest film, Perfect Days. “It’s especially otherworldly to someone from New York,” film critic Bilge Ebiri writes, “where we treat bathrooms as unmentionable pits of stained despair that must never be made accessible to the public and certainly never kept clean.” Perfect Days, by contrast, stars Koji Yakusho as Hirayama, a quiet custodian who dabbles in film photography, reads William Faulkner and Patricia Highsmith, and spends his days tending to Tokyo’s public toilets.
The project was spearheaded by Koji Yanai, a Fast Retailing executive, who, together with the Nippon Foundation, commissioned 17 star architects to create wheelchair-accessible public toilets in Shibuya City. According to the New York Times, Yanai invited Wenders to Tokyo, reportedly hopeful that they would strike inspiration within the Paris, Texas filmmaker. A delayed, spectator-less Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics thwarted the project’s earlier planned debut. After seeing them, Wenders and screenwriter Takuma Takasaki hammered out a script in three weeks. The film, which was shot in a whirlwind 15 days, earned Yakusho a best actor award at Cannes in 2023. The rest is history.
“If I say Japanese toilets are world number one, no one will disagree,” Yanai told the Times late last year. Looking at the list of megawatt talents who signed onto the project, and their star turn opposite Wenders’ lens, why should they?
For now, New Yorkers can look forward to waiting five more years for the city to bring five additional public toilets to its 302 square-mile footprint.