Japanese design philosophy is starting to make a strong impact on the car world. Rather than just trying to follow the Europeans a path that has often resulted in showroom floors full of banality proving that imitation is the palest form of flattery Japanese brands are looking to their own artistically gravel raked backyard.
And why not? This is a culture that was exploring and debating principles of design when most of Europe was still running around in animal skins -- and we don’t mean the tailored furs on Milan catwalks.
In fact, those catwalks have over the past couple of decades increasingly been influenced by Japan, as Europe’s loftiest fashion names skulk around Tokyo in search of inspiration. And whatever they spy on the streets of Harajuku is soon being spotted in the haute couture collections.
The Japanese aesthetic purity of line, distillation to essence, plus a strong influence from the beauty of nature has flavoured everything from our modern food presentation to furniture design. And finally, it’s reaching our carport.
Mazda is taking a leading role in this push over the past year or so, proudly declaring the ‘Japaneseness’ of its design approach, both in concept and production vehicles. The recently arrived Mazda2 and the spanking new Mazda6 are the first two cars to roll into the showroom with this approach, which is underpinned by three design keys: Rin, Seichi and Yugen.
Roughly translating, Rin means ‘dignity’ in the form of strength with a sense of tension think samurai swords and Kabuki costumes. Seichi refers to the ‘exquisite precision’ of bonsai and other small objects including all the latest technological phone, toy and music gadgetry that is becoming the new jewellery. And Yugen is about the harmony with nature that Japan has elevated to the level of a valid religion in both art and everyday life, and which underlies their approach to space, composition and subtlety.
But there is even more happening and perhaps driving the shape of future cars with the stunning concepts that have emerged from Mazda’s pursuit of the ‘Nagare’ element in design. The Nagare cars have been filling Mazda’s trophy cabinet, with the Grand Prix du Design handed to them a couple of weeks ago joining others including last year’s coveted Louis Vuitton Classic Concept award.
Nagare means ‘flow’ and ‘the embodiment of movement’: the natural geometry of waves, windblown ripples in sand, drifts of cloud across a breezy sky. Mazda designers have used this to analyse the essence of motion and how it functions in nature, then combined it with a centuries old aesthetic refinement to produce transfixing designs. The latest of these have been the Takai, Furai and Hakaze.
The Takai and the rotary powered racer, Furai which wowed the recent Detroit Motor Show are both sleek forms with molten shapes and multiple crease lines that hint at the contemplative gravel currents of raked gardens and the intricate layering of traditional kimonos. Or perhaps that Mazda HQ called in the services of a mad metal origami artist.
The Hakaze crossover, which debuted at Geneva Motor Show last year and will let Australians get closer at the Melbourne show at the end of this month, has body surfaces that evoke sand dunes, and shapes inspired by the aerodynamics of boats and planes.
It’s also intended to be a practical vehicle, designed with the needs of kiteboarders in mind and featuring a partially removable roof, easy stowage for large pieces of sporting equipment and internet connectivity apparently so you can check the beach weather reports on the run.
Mazda says the concept is not just a design exercise, with a special Advanced Product Planning division tasked with making sure it is developed into a reality. The Furai racer has had a few runs on the track, and while it hasn’t yet been up against competition, there are suggestions that the day is probably not far off. Frankly, we’d be happy if they just peeled the stickers off it and put it out on the sales floor as it stands. At the first hint of that, we’ll start making room in the garage.