Despite their reputation for minimalism, the Japanese also have an unexpected flair for standing out from the crowd. To an extent, this explains why longtime Wallpaper* photographer Satoshi Minakawa’s images of customized Japanese automobiles, on show from today at the Printspace in London, have such a liveliness and surprise about them.

Japan Cars

see more of Minakawa's images of customized Japanese automobiles
In shot after shot, Minakawa presents vehicles that look as if they came straight off some deranged kabuki set. Nothing looks as if it was ever meant for anything so mundane as road transportation. Gaudy gold fins are welded to the boot of two-wheeler carts. Trucks are festooned with blinding neon signs, their every surface plastered with kanji script and strobe lights. Meanwhile, the fleet of motorbikes and scooters are painted in a resplendent rainbow of glossy blues, reds and blacks; some are even adorned with stylized eyes on the fender.
The overall effect is one of manga Transformers, a split second before they unfold, unclip and spring into life.
Curiously, most of the vehicles featured in ‘Customized’ are the work of manual, blue-collar workers. Minakawa explains that mainstream Tokyo culture tends to, ironically, turn its nose up at this kind of car culture regarding it as odd and suburban.
Minakawa, however, applauds the owners of the vehicles for ‘striving to create something totally original, reflecting their own lifestyle, beliefs, ideals, virtues. In essence, creating a work of art. It seems to me that they are more genuine and purer artists than the more mainstream “calculating” artists.’