Greetings and salutations, reader! in the previous post I’ve talked on about the ridiculousness of the Fast and Furious franchise, from humble street racing beginnings to action movie heroes with cars. Well, for this post, its all about my what has become my new favorite movie of the franchise: Tokyo Drift, the often-overlooked threequel and black sheep of the Fast Saga.
Universal Pictures has been making these Fast movies for over two decades at this point, with each installment getting more and more ambitious- take the latest Fast X for example. Fast X being the 10th mainline movie and 11th overall if you include the Hobbes and Shaw spin-off, and you know what? I was left very underwhelmed when I watched Fast X the other day on my 1-day off. Not only did I wasted what is essentially 3-hours of my life that I can never get back, it was 3-hours of my life watching the “same” movie that came out two instalments prior. No disrespect to the crew or the behind-the-scenes people who made the movie possible, I think these newer Fast movies are just creatively bankrupt (on a story level)
So, you might be wondering, where does Tokyo Drift fit into this? Well, maybe I was just feeling nostalgic and yearning for something simpler. I could’ve watched the fan-favorite Fast Five -which I’d argue is the best movie the franchise has made- it introduced Dwayne Johnson into series, has some of the greatest set pieces, and peaked storywise with its ensemble cast driving off into the sunset. But Tokyo Drift did something better, it won me over with its sheer simplicity of a plot and it’s love for car culture (something that has been lacking in recent movies).
And after re-watching it after so many years, I’ve come up with five reason why this movie has gotten better with age and deserves some love.
The Last Movie to be About Racing
I know I’ve talked at nauseum at this point, Fast and Furious (2009) soft-rebooted the franchise into a more action movie instead of a racing one, and with Fast Five being about action with slick cars. For Tokyo Drift on the other hand, it’s jus pure racing, maybe the purest racing movie of the franchise since the first one. Speaking of which, while the first movie had Paul Walker’s Brian O’Conner’s character going undercover as a racer as a means to an end so he can infiltrate Dom’s crew, Tokyo Drift’s Lucas Black’s Sean Boswell is a high schooler who races for respect.
In the movie’s opening act, after a somewhat victorious drag race that ended in a gnarly accident, our protagonist, Sean is forced to go to Japan in order to avoid time in juvenile detention. But when he gets there tough, he gets into more racing and learns the ways of drifting. It’s pretty much racing 2/3 of the movie, with the films climax is a race down a mountain ala Initial D, basically this whole movie is about who can become “Drift King” and with almost any dispute can be resolve with a race. While races still occur in future movies, they feel as an obligation to its root rather than embracing it.
This Movie Popularized Drifting
With a title like Tokyo Drift your darn right it did! Just the way Han explains the origins to Sean sound so mystical, akin to how Ben Kenobi telling Luke about the Force for the first time- and I was awed. This movie brought the attention of drifting to so many (and myself) and that blew people’s minds that this technique is actually real. For us here in Malaysia, the popularity of this movie and the concept of drifting led to Malaysian filmmakers to make their own movie called Evolusi: KL Drift and its sequels.
The team behind this movie was so committed to the idea of drifting that they hired real-world racing legend and Drift King (Dorikin), Keiichi Tsuchiya as a consultant and stunt driver coordinator. When I said earlier about this movie is about racing and cars, it really is, with some of the best moments take place when the characters are just sliding into turns. Later movies have the high-stakes action, but Tokyo Drift give you an experience.
The Story Isn’t Complex and Relatable
Tokyo Drift works as movie, with only 104 minute runtime that’s about Japan’s drifting scene, a Romeo and Juliet love story that revolves around our Lucas Black’s character, Sean, a teenager (who looks like he’s about to hit 30) who get into too much trouble because loves to drive really fast. While not a one to one comparison, but I rode a Kawasaki Ninja 250r back in high school, and like most teens that feeling of thrill and adrenaline when you go really fast is this movie’s target audience. In some ways, Sean makes a more relatable character as opposed to Dom’s thug with a heart of gold persona.
Ok this is a rather weird analogy, but I see Tokyo Drift similar to a Persona game. See, while the movie primarily focuses on the racing and drifting, but we do see glimpses of Sean’s school life. Like Persona, the protagonist must balance life as both as a student and in this case a street racer with forming special bods, social links. His interactions with the people around him feel way more natural and has significance to the movie which later make him a better racer.
Tokyo Itself is a Character
In never entries of the franchise will take you on a globe trotting adventure, to very exotic locations but nothing more for giant set pieces to happen. For example, you’ll probably see our heroes in some sort of car chase through London or Spain, a car jumping from one skyscraper to another in Abu Dhabi- but again, its just window dressing. The locations don’t have really any significance to the story.
For Tokyo Drift however, Tokyo is a huge factor for the film and is sorta a character itself. You see life on the streets of Shibuya, races taking place on mountains, people going about their daily lives, thus giving the movie feel more lived in than any other movie in the series. Watching behind-the-scene footage of this movie, director Justin Lin managed to blend on location shots of Tokyo with downtown Los Angeles, and you wouldn’t know the difference, so props to him.
They Introduced the Best Character in the Series
Tokyo Drift is by no means a perfect movie, but they did introduce everyone’s favorite character, Han Lue, mentor to Sean in the ways of drifting. First appearing in Justin Lin’s Better Luck Tomorrow, and serving as his origin story, and felt the character was a perfect fit for the movie. Overall reception for the character was so positive that the next few movies were turned into prequels just so they can include Han in the timeline. Sung Kang, the actor playing the character gives Han this air of cool whenever he’s on screen or whenever he’s behind the wheel that you believe it.
While see Han’s “death” in Tokyo Drift, but it wasn’t until Fast 7 that we learn that it was Jason Statham’s Shaw who had killed him (a plot twist that doesn’t really make much sense), but eh- what is for certain though is that his absence is felt in later movies that fans started a campaign, Justice For Han. A campaign that sorta worked as we see his return in F9, and an even more convoluted explanation as to how he’s alive. But more Han is a good thing.
Well, here are my thoughts on as to why Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift has become my personal favorite in the series. Again, not a perfect movie, its stumbles in some places, and shines when it counts. Despite initial hate during its release, Tokyo Drift has managed to win audiences over with underdog story and its love of racing culture. So, I implore you to give this movie a chance if you go on a Fast and Furious marathon.