‘The Church knows all the rules. But it doesn’t know what goes on in a single human heart,’ wrote Graham Greene; the same logic might be applied to the various soulless algorithms that will tell you that Tokyo Drift is the worst Fast and Furious film, whereas the shocking truth is that it’s actually the best. Such heretical views may challenge your own personal beliefs and perceptions, but it’s about time we got to the heart of the matter; experimental third entries in beloved canons are still legitimate films, and while all Fast and Furious films deliver the goods to their spiralling core audience, Tokyo Drift is the best stand-alone film in the franchise and deserves to be considered on its own merits, and without the branded sub-title.
FF1 was a decent street-racing film, Point Break but with cars, and catching Vin Diesel and Paul Walker on the way up. The former declined the sequel, and 2 Fast 2 Furious suffered; my rental copy encourages the audience to identify as they would in a video game, selecting which character to view the set-up for the story from. With Walker also sitting out the third and presumed final entry in the franchise, what was the point on going on? New talent, behind the camera and behind the wheel was what made the difference; writer Chris Morgan and director Justin Lin took the franchise for a hairpin spin, and drifted the FF movies into a pop-culture dominance that you’d have to live under a rock to ignore.
Stepping into the breach, Lucas Black plays troubled teen Sean Boswell, who gets expelled from his Arizona high-school for high-octane shenanigans and takes his punishment in the form of moving to Japan and taking part in dangerous drift-racing event. This sounds more like a competition prize than a punishment, but The Boz takes it in his stride; under the tutelage of series favourite Han (Sung Kang), he goes from zero to hero, tangling with the Yakusa (in the form of Sonny Chiba) and eventually winning the hearts of the locals.
While the later FF films are clearly heist movies, filled with stars to appeal to multiple demographics, Tokyo Drift takes a different route; the stakes are small, and only (vague spoiler alert) an unexpected death adds a vengeance element. But Brian Tyler contributes a great score and some throbbing musical choices, the shiny setting is great to look at, and the car action is superb; less of a child’s toy box rampage, the cars hug the roads, and generally obey the rules of physics in a satisfying way.
Of course franchise fans will say that this isn’t a typical FF movie, and they’re right. But the lack of familiar elements leaves space for some great stuff; check out Sean’s debonair high-school jacket! The support performance of rapper Bow Wow! The dramatic death of a key character who somehow turned up alive in the next three films! No mention of Letty’s forthcoming amnesia! With minimal characters, and startling real-world on-location action sequences, this is arguably where the Fast and Furious road really starts; a multi-coloured, multi-cultural confection that strips down the franchise to a shell, sleeker and better looking than anything that came before. Is it any wonder that the brand has been in demand ever since? Forget your previous perceptions, set aside what you thought you knew, and accept Tokyo Drift into your heart…