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Virtual model Imma visits Kenichi SasakawaVirtual model Imma visits Kenichi Sasakawa

Virtual model Imma visits Kenichi Sasakawa

8 min reading time
A leading craftsman meets a technology expert who is paving the way for the next generation: Imma, Japan’s first virtual model, drives a BMW i4 M50 on her way to visit glass artist Kenichi Sasakawa.

6 October 2022

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The artist: Kenichi Sasakawa

Kenichi Sasakawa, glass art, glassKenichi Sasakawa, glass art, glass

Glass artist Kenichi Sasakawa was born in 1981 in the Kanagawa prefecture, part of the Greater Tokyo Area. He is a graduate of Tama Art University, where he studied in the Department of Ceramic, Glass and Metal Works and specialized in glass. After pursuing a course of postgraduate study at the same university, he completed an apprenticeship at the Utatsuyama workshop in Kanazawa (Kanazawa Utatsuyama Kogei Kobo), which specializes in handicrafts. He currently works in the Japanese city of Kyoto.

Imma, the digital explorer

This unusual excursion through Japan takes Imma from Kyoto to Nara, a city located one hour’s drive to the south. Her destination: the studio of glass artist and craftsman Kenichi Sasakawa. But who exactly is Imma – and why is a true innovation taking place in the BMW i4 M50 (➜ Read also: Electric vehicle dynamics – BMW i4 M50 put to the test on the Salzburgring)?

BMW i4 M50, Imma, virtual influencerBMW i4 M50, Imma, virtual influencer
Digital driver meets real passion for driving: Imma, Japan’s first virtual model, drives a BMW i4 M50 on her way to visit glass artist Kenichi Sasakawa.
Electric range 416–521 (WLTP) in km
Electricity consumption 22,5–18,0 in kWh/100 km (WLTP)

The answer consists of three letters: CGI (short for Computer Generated Imagery). This acronym refers to images generated by 3D computer graphics for use in movie production. These days, the technology is no longer used just for special movie effects but also to create incredibly lifelike computer-generated people – like Imma. The Japanese virtual model has long since made a name for herself in the fashion world.

The creative mastermind behind the computer-generated influencer is the company Aww, which specializes in virtual humans. Imma launched her own Instagram account in 2018 so that she could act as an ambassador for a variety of brands. She also uses this medium to share her journey both in Japan and around the world. When telling her story, Imma has the same thoughts and feelings as her real-life colleagues.

The glass art of Kenichi Sasakawa

The paintwork of the BMW i4 creates visual excitement, while the emission-free drive makes driving a sustainable pleasure. However, color and sustainable production are also distinguishing features of the glasswork created in Kenichi Sasakawa’s studio.

Sasakawa’s glasswork is a beautiful shade of bluish gray. He uses recycled glass from old fluorescent lamps and adds nickel, cobalt, copper, and other elements to create the unique coloring. Other distinctive features include the tiny bubbles that develop during the production process. The thin, delicate glass, reminiscent of light on a rainy day, combines a unique sense of individuality with the functional beauty of an everyday object.

Kenichi Sasakawa, Glaskunst, Glas Kenichi Sasakawa, Glaskunst, Glas

Heart of glass

Kenichi Sasakawa, glass art, glassKenichi Sasakawa, glass art, glass
Kenichi Sasakawa’s work requires a delicate touch.

“I’ve always been interested in product design. I love the fact that my glass creations can be used as functional everyday objects and blend into people’s lives,” explains Sasakawa. Glass is a material that can no longer be restored to its original state once it has been broken – and that is what gives it its irreversible beauty. “In its natural state, it is transparent and the effect changes depending on the light, the way in which it is used, and the things that are put in it (➜ Read also: The new light on the road). But objects made of glass are not merely useful, they also influence the hearts and minds of the people who use them.”

The artisan believes that this material has a spiritual depth – and also a mission: “Producing and shaping glass gives a human touch to something that in its natural state is just a raw material. That’s why I want to pass my work on to other people, so that they can use it as part of their daily lives. I want people to become aware of the presence of glass in their lives. People make a ceremony of wiping the table before they drink water from a freshly rinsed glass, for example, or they enjoy the time they spend thinking about what food to serve on the plate. I hope that my glasswork will help people be more mindful of these moments of enjoyment in their everyday lives.”

Creating pieces inspired by nature

How does Imma experience the work done in the studio? “What impressed me most during the production process was the way in which the properties of recycled glass were exploited (➜ Read also: Sustainable production at BMW). I find that leaving the natural bubbles as a structural feature enhances the artistic aspect of the glass and emphasizes that it is not an artificial product.”

Imma is herself interested in creative processes and particularly enthusiastic about fashion. She finds that nature is a source of both ideas and inspiration: “I am interested in environmental issues, and once made a dress from garbage collected at sea. From this, I learned that there are many different fibers and weaving techniques. In general, I only choose fabrics I am familiar with. I have now learned that there are many different ways to create new patterns, for example, if you are willing to risk trying out materials you are not so familiar with.”

What inspires Sasakawa?

Kenichi Sasakawa, glass art, glassKenichi Sasakawa, glass art, glass

Sasakawa and Imma set off together to visit the places in the historic city in which the glass artist finds inspiration. “CoFuFun” is a building complex in front of Tenri station in southern Nara, which is operated by the Kintetsu railway company. Despite its futuristic appearance, the complex’s architecture was inspired by the ancient tombs – one of Nara’s symbols and landmarks – and thus seems very familiar to the people who live locally. In the Tenri district, there are a number of these old Japanese graves, known as “kofun”. They are unique and unmistakable, yet they are also an integral part of daily life in the city.

BMW i4 M50, Kenichi Sasakawa, Imma, virtual influencer, NaraBMW i4 M50, Kenichi Sasakawa, Imma, virtual influencer, Nara
Kenichi Sasakawa and Imma park the BMW i4 M50 in front of CoFuFun in Nara’s city center.

The complex’s name, CoFuFun, combines the main design element, kofun, with colloquial Japanese expressions: “fufun” refers to a cheerful, unconscious humming – the design of the complex is intended to create a sociable atmosphere where everybody can relax.

Designed by Oki Sato from the design studio nendo, the multi-purpose complex on several levels offers an open-air stage, a trampoline and other playground equipment, a café, and other facilities.

Exploring the Nara Okuyama Driveway

The inspiring journey continues along a route on which the electric BMW i4 M50 can show off its dynamics, acceleration, and precise steering. The winding Nara Okuyama Driveway runs over Mt. Wakakusa, Mt. Kasuga, and Mt. Takamodo to the east of Nara. The route also takes Kenichi Sasakawa and Imma from the Mizuya shrine to Mt. Wakakusa, from where it is possible to visit the Kasugayama primeval forest, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

BMW i4 M50, Kenichi Sasakawa, Imma, virtual influencer, NaraBMW i4 M50, Kenichi Sasakawa, Imma, virtual influencer, Nara

A glass in the colors of the sunset

The summit of Mt. Wakakusa, which can be reached by car or on foot, offers spectacular panoramic views of the sunset over the city of Nara. For Sasakawa, who loves nature and animals, it is one of the spots where he can seek new ideas, escape his busy schedule, or simply switch off. The deer at the top of the mountain, which are not so accustomed to humans as those down in the valley, are also a soothing sight. This is why Sasakawa often carries a camera and takes photos whenever the light permits.

The view over the city of Nara against the sunset from the summit of Mt. Wakakusa is one of the special moments mentioned by Sasakawa that should be enjoyed mindfully. A moment that could also inspire Imma – to create new fashion designs, undertake new journeys, and also to enjoy mindful living.

Author: Akiko Yamamoto; Art: Shuma, Daisuke Abe; Photos: KAN, Ryusuke Honda (bird and insect ltd.); Video: bird and insect ltd

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