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Tokyo Drift

****
2006

‘…all Fast and Furious films deliver the goods to their spiralling core audience, Tokyo Drift is the best stand-alone film in the franchise…’

‘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…

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  1. I’m not a fan of the series but I did enjoy this one. For what it is, I was surprised by how much fun I had watching it. I’d read some poor reviews but was drawn by the setting. Tokyo looks fantastic in the racing scenes! Insightful review 😎

    • Tokyo looks absolutely amazing in this film, and not just the neon cityscapes. I get that reviews felt it wasn’t the globetrotting film that the series turned into, but as a excursion into an exotic world, hard to beat. Plus I WANT that jacket!

  2. The underlying philosophy of Greene’s statement is why I’ve never read a book by him. The less said the better.

    As for this franchise. I watched the first one, can’t remember if I watched the second and I know I watched this. I was in the middle of a manga reading binge called Initial D about a highschool kid street driver and this movie slotted right into that interest. I never saw another after this though. Vin Diesel has never appealed to me as an actor, I don’t care about cars (I don’t even change my own oil for goodness sake!) and I react negatively against anything that gets the “Popular” tag associated with it.

    Plus, the naming conventions of the subsequent movies really, really, really annoyed me. Doesn’t take much to get me to ignore a movie 😀

    • Tough crowd. Yep, Greene was very keen on finding fault with the way that religious institutions deal with things. Whether that’s true or not, I’d say algorithms are even less trustworthy. My point is exactly as you say; don’t trust something to be good, or bad, just because it’s popular or not. I like all of the FF movies, but they’re very overblown, and I liked it better when they sorted it all out in 90 minutes rather than 160. I like the funny titles though; Mart1n Chu55elwit, Barnaby R1dge Racer D, Ol1ver Drift, Gr8 Expectationzz….

  3. Strangely enough for a petrolhead such as myself, I have never followed up on the FF franchise since seeing the first one. I love car chases (Extraction has a doozy!) but as part of a wider story, not THE story. So, long nope.

  4. I’d like to make it all the way through this series, but haven’t managed yet. It’s kind of remarkable they built such a long-running and profitable franchise out of this material. It sort of constitutes reducing everything down to its most basic genre elements.

    Oh well, haven’t seen this one but maybe someday.

    • If you only see one film in the franchise; this is the least typical, and least developed, and yet it’s the most appealing to me as a straight-up watch….I’d say this is where the alchemy happened….

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