In A NOTEBOOK ON CITIES AND CLOTHES, Wim Wenders, whose previous documentaries include CHAMBRE 666 and TOKYO-GA, offers a handsome, clever portrait of revered Japanese fashion designer Yohji Yamamoto.
Along with his countrymen Issey Miyake and Rei Kawakubo, Yamamoto is one of the few modern designers who can truly be called an artist. His clothes combine function with breathtaking beauty, incorporating a purity of line, a sensual correctness of fabric and a compelling rigor of color--primarily
black, white, navy and red--which make them instantly identifiable as his, as well as a sublime luxury to wear. They succeed in making the wearer look both sexy and intellectual: the ultimate equation of chic. Wenders became interested in his subject when he first wore a Yamamoto shirt and jacket,
which he says seemed old and yet new at the same time. He felt protected in the garments, like a knight in armor.
Wenders brings his usual puckish sense of humor to the proceedings. There's his neverending delight with the latest technology of film and videomaking (for which the Japanese provide an even more fertile field than fashion), his sense of Yamamoto as a somewhat monkish misfit, their deadpan
semi-serious duologues while playing pool. Wenders's running theme throughout seems to be a technological monologue going on in his head, which is also evident in UNTIL THE END OF THE WORLD. Some of the rather oblique issues which obsess him: "Can we trust the electronic image? With the latest
digital and video technologies, original images have ceased to exist. Everything is a copy now."
Yamamoto is a model of simplicity by comparison, and surprisingly forthcoming and articulate about his design philosophy. He is particularly taken with the photographs August Sander took of German workers, incorporating details of their uniforms into his work. He says, with a simplicity devoid of
pretension, that he is always waiting for inspiration to strike. ("I'm always waiting, watching TV, books, women, girls.") He even brings up the name of his biggest rival, Miyake, when he states that neither of them could ever steal designs from the other, for, even if they had the sketches, it is
only in the workroom that one really discovers how the garments are made. As for his enduring emphasis on black, Yamamoto explains, "It only wants form and texture. There is no need for color." The asymmetry he is famous for stems from the anger he feels anytime he sees anything that is perfectly
symmetrical and balanced. Such creations make him want to destroy them, he declares. He feels that human beings are not perfectly formed, so his clothes should reflect that. The disciplined approach he takes to his craft (which he insists is "dressmaking," and not "designing") is expressed by his
statement that he could spend a hundred hours just doing the armholes of his garments.
The directorial take is a bit too pedantically busy at times. One wants to see Yamamoto at work in his atelier, surrounded by five busily pinning assistants, constructing an exquisitely stark black sheath or shirt with all the precision and care which might go into a house, without the fussy
benefit of Wenders' intrusive gadgetry and sardonic viewpoint. His German didacticism does, however, find an amusing match in the Japanese. There's one especially telling scene of Yamamoto scrawling his name in chalk innumerable times upon the hoarding outside his new boutique. As each signature
fails to please him, minions scurry to erase the offending writing, leaving a fresh blank space upon which he can start over again.
A NOTEBOOK ON CITIES AND CLOTHES climaxes with Yamamoto's spring show, held in the Louvre. He daringly revives the Victorian hoopskirt in graphic black and white prints that are not only eye-catching in shape but equally compelling for the way they bounce and move along with the models' stride.
The parade of clothes is tantalizing, but obscured by Wenders's restricted use of a stationary longshot, with the lower half of the screen taken up by a smaller video image of Yamamoto, musing. Words seem superfluous, however, as one glance at the astonishing dresses sailing by tells all there is
to know. The overhead shots of the outfits being preparatorily assembled sans model reveal the minute care in planning and detail which go into a show that seems over nearly as soon as it's begun, distilling the perfect evanescence of fashion itself.
Wenders ends A NOTEBOOK ON CITIES AND CLOTHES in Yamamoto's studio, with the man surrounded by his elated, exhausted crew. The camaraderie and shared commitment of these dedicated students and creators of that most fleeting of matters--style--is both palpable and touching.
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1989
- Rating: NR
- Review: In A NOTEBOOK ON CITIES AND CLOTHES, Wim Wenders, whose previous documentaries include CHAMBRE 666 and TOKYO-GA, offers a handsome, clever portrait of revered Japanese fashion designer Yohji Yamamoto. Along with his countrymen Issey Miyake and Rei Kawaku… (more)