In the small, rural prefecture of Saitama, Japan, lives a man that many consider the originator of a car culture revolution. Hidden down a small dirt alley amongst radish farmers and quaint traditional Japanese homes is a shop called Mizuno Works. The owner, Shintaro Mizuno, is largely responsible for some of the most iconic Japanese gangster mobiles ever built.
As we made our way out of Tokyo, the most technologically advanced city in the world, and headed into the stark contrast of the countryside, I began to conjure images in my mind of how the shop would be. With every passing kilometer the suburbs began to get smaller and smaller until we were traveling over a dusty gravel road to our final destination--a yard littered with classic J-tin, guarded by a single black dog. Upon seeing the shop my heart began racing and I struggled to wait for the car to become stationary so I could exit.
I sprung from the car and when my Vans made contact with the ground I felt like I had overdosed on crack, died and gone to heaven. Directly in front of me, waiting patiently was one of the best-looking Fairladys I have ever set eyes on. We had a date and she was dressed the part. Devoid of her rear bumper, widened, elongated and finally doused in olive drab, this g-nose is the culmination of parts and knowledge that only Mizuno Works (or one of his customers) possess. This is how Japanese classics should be.
What I wasn't expecting was a double-date but it was clear the lady in green wasn't alone. There were two other cars with which the Z car would share the parking lot. The first was another Z I was already acquainted with, a Pepto-Bismol pink S30 with the number 69 proudly displayed on its body. This was one of Mizuno's personal cars, a drag racer. Less one hood, the L-series engine was completely exposed and covered by uncharacteristic stainless lines, AN fittings and custom aluminum pieces--all to ensure that nothing goes wrong on a zero-yon run.
Hidden behind the pair of Zs was a car that clearly hadn't been danced with in quite some time. The dust-covered golden paint still shimmered in the sunlight, begging to be noticed. "Holy shit, is that a Kenmeri!? It is! Oh god, can I please shoot the Kenmeri!?" were the last words I spoke before leaping from our rental. The Kenmeri is my unicorn and everything about this one was utter perfection, from the decals to the subway rings, this car screams style.
In less than thirty seconds my entire agenda had changed, there was much more afoot on this property than a cookie cutter car feature. My brain had taken on a highly manic state and was going off in all sorts of tangents. Then I heard Jonathan and Tetsu's doors close and I turned around, smiling from ear to ear, and asked if one of them could immediately take my picture with the cars. Just as JW released the shutter a man walked out of the shop and headed in our direction.
He too was smiling, wearing a pair of coveralls with a bright red zipper that couldn't conceal their age. As we shook hands I couldn't help but notice the grease and other stains that had become an integral part of his wardrobe, all trace elements of the countless days of work this man was wearing on his shoulders. It was equally evident that this is a labor of love.
Mizuno-san is really a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to car building. He is a collector, owner, enthusiast, fabricator, engine builder, bodyman and an all-around badass. The respect that other classic Japanese car owners have for this man is astounding but rightfully so. His knowledge and creativity can't be rivaled anywhere. He might not have been the first person to tune cars in this style but he certainly does it better than anyone else. His creations are a finely-tuned balance of aggressive looks and performance, walking the line on the border of good taste and absolute hideousness.
After introductions Mizuno took us inside his shop space for a mini-tour. Although the facility was small it was jam-packed with rare vintage parts that were pouring out of every nook and cranny. Discontinued wheels, timeless stickers and side draft carburetors were chaotically placed throughout. The only portion of the shop that seemed to have some kind of order was the paint booth, which was currently occupied by a F30 Leopard awaiting some body pieces and paint. In a nut shell, there was more cool-per-square-inch in this little shop than anywhere I have ever been.
When the tour was over it was time to get down to business and I was eager to start shooting. As the guys moved the cars into position for photos I walked the grounds outside the shop to analyze some shooting angles. I started to take in the atmosphere of the location as I planned my compositions. A wall of half-rusted chassis was stacked alongside the exterior of the shop. The lineup included anything a Japanese classic car lover would kill for: Hakosukas, Kenmeris, S30 Z cars, S130 Z cars and even C130 Laurels were patiently waiting in their temporary resting spots until a customer of Mizuno's would come and pick their poison.
Unlike most tuners in the US, Mizuno offers a full build service including the donor chassis for anyone who wants to roll gangster. Of course these come at a high price but the chances of finding these cars on your own are very slim. Once you have your designated chassis picked out, Mizuno goes to work restoring and outfitting the car in custom body pieces, vintage rolling stock, classic engine builds and everything else needed to round out the build. He's sort of like the Walmart one-stop-shop for historic JDM.
I started off shooting Mizuno's green Z, his latest creation that caught my eye at TAS. Even if you aren't a car lover it's hard not to appreciate this sleek piece of machinery. The color pallet and wheel choice compliment the original design perfectly. Add in the fender flares, rear wing and unmistakable Mizuno Works fenders, and you've got an automobile that captures your heart upon first sight.
Once I felt I had sufficient documentation of the Z it was time to move over to the Skyline. I asked if we could move the C110 to the end of the street for a different scene. Mizuno-san was happy to oblige but informed me that my time would be short because the school bus would be coming to drop off kids soon. After a quick dusting, the car was fired up and my ears were met with a glorious sound that is a carbureted straight six.
As the car violently bounced down the gravel road I trailed behind with my gear trying not to breathe in the dust left in the car's wake. We were met at the other end of the road by a local farmer who had come to reap his crops. Mizuno-san was obviously acquainted with the man who spoke feverishly excitement. As Mizuno later explained the man was curious what was going on, I suppose it's not everyday he sees a white kid with a beard and skinny jeans shooting old Japanese cars.
I was equally stoked to finally shoot this golden beauty. My heart was racing through the shoot as my mind tried to wrap around the car, how I wanted to capture it and the time constraints set upon me. I framed up my first shot and began to analyze the car. There was just so much going on, so many little details that set this car apart from the toys.
The wheels were possibly the most mind boggling of all the parts on the car. Those are 13X10"/13X13" Techno Racings wrapped in equally rare vintage ADVAN race rubber. The sidewalls were cracking under the pressure from years of stretch mounting. I moved in for closer inspection and every last imperfection painted a story in my mind of the life these tires lived, much the way I'd imagine a palm reader guesses the story of a hand.
On the inside of the car I found traces of the owner everywhere. From charms and amulets to the decals and tuning parts there is charisma exploding from the cockpit. Never have I been so fascinated by the purpose and meaning of interior accoutrements. Some of the Boso trends are even downright comical, like the go-kart sized steering wheels and some of the decals I'm not at liberty to discuss. This really isn't a trend, it's a way of life and it has been for over twenty-five years, as long as I've been alive.
When the shoot finally came to an end I was sad but fulfilled. I had seen some incredible things most would never see in a lifetime and I learned more about this underground culture than any car blog could try to explain. All thanks to one of the most interesting car builders I have ever met and I couldn't even speak his language! Leaving the shop that day two things became very clear to me. Mizuno-san isn't going to stop building cars and the next time I'm in Tokyo my first stop will be a visit to the God of Bosozoku.
www.mizuno-works.com; youtube.com/watch?v=Csm2_xqjQ0Y; youtube.com/watch?v=Iz0EU98CC8w; youtube.com/watch?v=U57wtjWQz2M