I’m one of those praising part I of “1Q84“. First book I ever read with something resembling a product placement inside. Hits you right in the beginning act. At the span of 8 sentences, there’s one specific brand repeated 4 times with 2 even more distinct praises. First one’s Toyota. Second, is sound insulation.
I don’t care if he’s been paid off or chose it himself, Haruki Murakami wrote with precision – Toyota Crown Royal Saloon. A brand new one. Seeing it, you had full certainty and honor of witnessing the most pristine, luxurious and mushy trim of Crown. First introduced in 1971 with fourth generation, it combined the model with features normally found on Japanese Rolls-Royce – Toyota Century. Under the hood, 2.6 liter 4M inline six conquered over the rest. If you want to feel fancy, there you go, it’s a bored-out version of an engine wielded by mythical 2000GT. Except it traded all it’s power for low-end torque which is a good thing. And when I say “low” I mean 2400rpm for the fuel-injected ones which is quite impressive. People called its design futuristic, bragging about aerodynamic shape and integrated bumpers. What’s interesting to me, is the market it aimed at, seemingly occupied by W114 Benzes of the world.
What differentiated Crown can be easily seen from the outside. It’s supposed to be a modern design by 70s standards, without throwing attainability out the window. Many manufacturers aim up, which can be seen from the moon if you take modern KIA as an example. Used to build cheapest cars out there, now crapped-out a 370 horsepower sports sedan of all things. Story of mid-sized Royal Saloon is of humbleness. Sure, you work hard, rarely ever have enough time to catch your own reflection. To make things up, more pleasant, without going out of control, you buy it over the flashy star-badge. And you’re proud of that decision.
If you think it mimics American cars you’re goddamn right. USA was probably the only country they measured themselves against. And not in a way you might expect. Before 1986 economy bubble splashing all over the place, being white in Tokyo meant four things:
1. Some clubs allowed you to get in for free
2. Even when speaking Dutch, everyone just assumed you’re from the States
3. When leaving party at the commute time, YOU were the cause of a traffic jam with every citizen dropping stuff just to stare at you but don’t get carried away because 4. Their eyes sometimes reminisced painful memories of bombings ending the WWII.
Many things they did differently, yes. Bond movie is an easy one – for “You Only Live Twice” they chopped the roof off of 2000GT to fit a real-sized Scotsman. Without second-guessing the idea or over the top argument Enzo would start. Difference in philosophy. Mk IV Crown – and many other cars from Japan – boasted with ride quality (sort of), precision driving (kinda) and for domestic market even luxury features with thousands of choices. Power-plant, transmission and level of abuse were plentiful, often exceeding 70 possible configurations.
At around the same time in Wixom, Michigan, Lincoln Continental Mk IV rolled out of the factory. Ron Jeremy style. With only one, blessed by Jesus, righteous configuration: earthquake stopping, democracy inducing 7.5 milion liter V8, married to a hideous 3-speed automatic. Both gears and body were longer than guitar solo in Freebird. Which is ironic given how many people in Michigan still measure distance in minutes.
“Aomame slung the bag across her chest to keep it from falling. Some distance away she could see the brand-new black Toyota Crown Royal Saloon in which she had been riding, its windshield reflecting the blinding glare of the afternoon sun. She could not make out the face of the driver, but she knew he must be watching.”
Of course he’s been watching baby. Being commanding in 1984 obliged you to voyeuristic practices. Wearing intrusive argyle vests while both US banking and presidency took intergalactic-grade hit. AIDS got identified, scaring those who forgot about Orwell’s prophecy. People crawled slowly through highways with no other choice but to move on. Post catalytic converter traffic jam. Decision makers picked the direction and flooding mass went on to create an identity of their own.
Many worlds got made up to match the world of Lawyers, Guns And Money. Blade Runner, Handmaid’s Tale, Blue Velvet. All of them, representing different types of life fatigue. Gritty streets dominated by tired, male-looking, robot-like workers. Women, objectified, swept under layers of lead conservatism, seeking more out of life. Everyone has a different memory of that period. Some felt more like a super-organism than a group of individuals, put on a stage in colorful clothing and attacked with basic urges they’re supposed to feel. Still trapped, like people on “that little island”. “Things are going well, who are YOU to question?”
That depends on where you lived. New York for instance, at the beginning of 1980s was a place of misfits. Police forces got reduced in funding. Fear of losing power over the city turned them ignorant, racist and more violent. Every day, people would go places to trade in stolen goods from light-bulbs to car bumpers. Bartenders carrying guns is nothing new but.. damn, even some smaller shoemakers had either a .38 or crowbars lying around for protection. Thank God for common sense and tough people taking matters in their own hands a.k.a. Guardian Angels appeared.
To put things in perspective, you could be a totally nonchalant remnant from the Grease era and feel Japanese gears turning to 11. Or at least that’s the image they sent out to the world through orthodox lens. It’s been 30 years of such illusion while LDP continued softened reign – which is a convenient segue as 1955 is also year 1 for Toyota Crown. Sales people even tried to break into US market but their ridiculous publicity stunt with cross-country drive and general lack of preparation forced rapid retreat. Even naming standard was off. You can’t step on the land of Presley with something called Toyopet, proclaiming it as “baby Cadillac”. You just can’t. And THEN you’re throwing a 1.5l four-banger with less than 50 horses?! You better run boy.
So they tried smuggling some art instead. 1956, US government takes what used to be Ishirō Honda’s “Gojira” and… erases all, even the most subtle nuclear bomb subtext. Pasted their own white guy on it. Smug faces claimed that Japanese perspective simply “wouldn’t be successful enough”. Despite such treatment, they still wanted to break into America with fruits their hard work brought to life. Misunderstood for retaliating victims, driven by the idea of success. Some creators gave up to this notion. Director of the original movie finally switched to Kajiu B-grade with “King Kong vs. Godzilla”, dropping all symbolism behind.
Japan still had their emperor, except now he acted as a polar opposite to Takeshi’s Castle. Jesus tap-dancing Christ, what a masterpiece of over the top entertainment. Or an excuse to smash people with rolling boulders, I dunno. Platform games were first for me so seeing someone taking their time to craft endless gauntlet of a course 33 years ago still seems surreal.
Oh, right, the emperor. Transitioned from God into marine biologist, who cares. Their schools at the time though, had pretty ruthless rules to go by. Kids got faced with square system of valuing their life. Boys were forced to buzz-cut their heads in prison fashion and girls to appear in gym wearing scant burumas – elegant name for 10 year girls running around in panties. Of course all of it for the sake of proper education. Or lolicon, whatever, Google that if you will but consider yourself warned. Rise in bullying was just a side-effect of mixed factors. One can never forget about greater sense of community!
Just as the young ones were thrown against unforgiving spreadsheet of expectations, those who raised them in big cities had it hard too. With the economy growing frighteningly fast, anyone willing to put on a tie could easily ascend to the middle class and lifetime employment was there to lure them in. Hopefully, those who signed the contract weren’t hired by Fuji.
So there they all sat in a traffic jam. Ratio getting close to a car per head. All, isolated from each other. In between them, shiny black machine. Rolling, piano-colored chamber. On imaginary stage, Leoš Janáček with dedicated to Czechoslovak army “Sinfonietta”, propelling forward to inspire all around. Kids on a bus stuck their heads looking at the masterful execution of engineering Toyota Crown Royal Saloon was. “We made this, all of us, together. We may have our flaws. Life’s been hard but here we are, to marvel at what’s achievable by our nation. You too can aspire to own a car like this. And we can do better. We MUST do better.” So I guess we gotta talk about Akira?
1986, spike in both stock market stats and suicide rate. Japan started to reject foreign influence on itself because if world dominance is at stake, why bother comparing yourself to anybody? With so many national-wide traumas it’s a waste of time. Radiation deformations, future painted with bleak colors, unrest among youth – all spiked to create what’s known today as the wonder of all time anime.
Creative endeavors are tough if you’re a perfectionist. Success is out there, so is the next project. Tides change. You can laugh if off but nothing was the same after Akira. To be honest, if you stop to watch it now, odds are you’ll face similar fate. And so died attainable luxury. Sports cars won the election, term of office: 20 years.
Today, Mk XV is out there, waiting. It’s got a 3.5l V6 hybrid with, seriously? 10-speed automatic? Damn. Driving it around you have an online system connected to real-time traffic monitoring so you kinda foresee arrival of The Fourth Horseman. And… sweet baby Jesus, do I want to criticize it. Make some generic anti-future point about what it’s supposed to be when in fact, it’s the nameplate that retained its entire philosophy. “Unpresuming celebration” could be the sales pitch.
Trying to understand it on its own terms hit me like “Live and Let Die” playing in the background. Never truly understood what these words meant. Put my own philosophy on top of this song without ever registering lyrics. If it’s just a song for you, it’ll come and go without much impact. You may hold onto the fact it was written for a Bond movie so of course it’s just a piece of entertainment. Roger Moore fought The God of Life and Death in the movie itself so what? Toyota Crown is a Japanese, automotive, disguised Baron Samedi?
No. It’s tradition fighting its way back after years of disposable technology being massively produced for one reason – profit. Every empire has its own Crown. Every empire needs a stable basis made by people. They just found a way for people to enslave themselves while retaining pride. Royal Saloon could be then just another prize to win no one needed, but everybody wanted. So, knowing when to shut up and keep on working stands till this day as a showcase of Japanese power despite everything.