Should I Watch..? 'The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift'
What's the big deal?
The Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift is an action thriller film released in 2006 and is the third entry in the hugely popular The Fast And The Furious franchise. Unlike the previous two films, this was the first film not to feature Paul Walker in the lead. Instead, the film stars Lucas Black as a troubled teenager sent to Japan where he finds himself immersed in Tokyo's underground car culture. The movie also stars Nathalie Kelley, Sung Kang, Shad "Bow Wow" Moss, Brian Tee, Brian Goodman and the legend that is Sonny Chiba. Directed by Justin Lin, the film received a lukewarm reception from critics and went on to make the lowest amount in the series so far. Interestingly, the film is actually set between the sixth and seventh films in the series.
What's it about?
Arizona high school student Sean Boswell is involved in a serious crash after racing against jock Clay and his girlfriend. Although Clay is absolved of any blame due to his wealthy family, Sean finds himself facing the prospect of juvenile detention or even jail. Thankfully, his mother arranges for Sean to travel to Japan to stay with his US Navy officer father in an attempt to avoid any further trouble.
Once there, Sean finds himself drawn to Tokyo's midnight car culture where highly modified vehicles dangerously race and drift around the city. After befriending fellow military brat Twinkie and catching the eye of student Neela, Sean quickly discovers that the current "drift king" is Takashi, a low-level thug whose uncle is in the Yakuza. And Takashi doesn't like outsiders, especially those who talk to his girl Neela...
Release Date (UK)
16th June, 2006
Action, Crime, Thriller
What's to like?
Few people are going to watch any film in this franchise for anything other than the cars and sure enough, they are the real stars of this film. Tokyo Drift seemingly engages in nitrous-fuelled racing at the drop of a hat, giving Lin all the excuse he needs to shred some tyres and noisily screech around a multi-storey car park or mountain road. Naturally, there is also an emphasis on modifying with lurid colour schemes, ridiculous amounts of subwoofer in the boot of the car and scantily-clad young ladies draped over souped-up Mazdas and the like in a PG-kinda of sexy. In short, it delivers the same vehicular eye-candy the rest of the series does.
There is also an attention to detail when the film moves to Japan. The cramped living conditions, brilliantly lit street scenes and the minutiae of everyday life all make the movie feel as authentic as possible and make this film feel very different from the others in the series. It's actually the closest I've felt to being in Tokyo since Lost In Translation way back when and if you concentrate really hard, you can block out the smoke and tyres squeals and just enjoy feeling like you're in a totally different culture.
- Nearly all of the drifting was performed by professional racing drivers as none of the professional drivers at Universal could drift. Nevertheless, the shoot still managed to wreck over 100 cars.
- Vin Diesel's brief cameo was only agreed to after disastrous test screenings. Instead of getting paid, Diesel negotiated the rights to the Riddick franchise, allowing him to make the movie Riddick in 2013.
- Sean's car, the red Mitsubishi Evo VIII, has JDM front headlamps and rear taillamps. It had to be converted from four-wheel drive to rear-wheel drive to enable the vehicle to drift as required.
What's not to like?
Sadly, underneath the gleaming bodywork and supercharged engine, is a vehicle held together by rust. The story makes little sense to anyone with half a brain and even if it did, you wouldn't care because Sean is such an unlikeable character. He has no real motivation to speak of besides being a trouble-seeking ass and his arrogance knows no bounds. It's not helped by the fact that Black delivers a performance so bad, I thought he had faxed himself across the Pacific. None of the cast stand out very much besides the effortlessly beautiful Kelley who, as a woman in a Fast & Furious movie, serves little purpose other than the object of our hero's affection. No wonder she's in a school uniform half the time.
I mentioned earlier how most viewers will catch this for the driving scenes but even here, the movie doesn't quite deliver the goods. Watching the cars from outside the vehicle is OK, if a little disjointed and incoherent. Where the film drops the ball is when the camera moves inside the car where characters can have polite conversation over tortured engine whines and nobody is affected by G Force at all. Like the somewhat laboured 2 Fast 2 Furious, the CG beyond the windows is unconvincing and shatters the illusion that these actors are actually travelling at unsafe speeds. It almost feels like you're watching someone play a video game and where's the fun in that?
Should I watch it?
Tokyo Drift exists in the world of Fast & Furious like a nerdy kid hanging out with the trouble-makers and weed-dealers behind the bike shed. It might have the same neon-splashed speed machines the first two movies had but beyond that, there's almost literally nothing else here. From the one-dimensional cast to the underwritten script to the ear-splitting soundtrack, this is a film strictly for fans of the series only. Like drifting, it's all noise and smoke but actually not that fast. Or furious.
Great For: petrol-heads, Japanese viewers, forgiving fans of the series, teenage boys
Not So Great For: intelligent people, hikers, the franchise as they'd rather you forgot about it
What else should I watch?
The early films in the franchise focused far more on racing and customisation than the later films do. The original The Fast And The Furious has an infectious enthusiasm for the street racing scene (although I maintain that there aren't that many empty roads in LA) and a career-laying turn from Vin Diesel that paved the way for the series to continue. 2 Fast 2 Furious follows the same pattern basically as the first but misses Diesel's star power, allowing the late Paul Walker to flourish in the role of his tragically short career.
After the remake-of-sorts that was the fourth film, the series exploded into life by earning big bucks at the box office, if not always rave reviews. Fast Five was the first film to up the ante in terms of stunt-work and moved away from street racing and became more a heist movie instead. It was also the most successful film in the series up to that point, brought in more star power in the bulky form of Dwayne Johnson and paved the way for the series to get ever bigger and bolder. The most recent entry, Fast & Furious 8, is the eighth film in the series and made over $1.2 billion, making it one of the most successful films in history. And there's apparently still two more films to come.
© 2018 Benjamin Cox