“Remember when Lost in Translation got all that critical acclaim, but there were still a few naysayers who pointed out that nothing much actually happens in it? If it had had more fast cars and no capable acting whatsoever, it would be this movie; it’s like Sofia Coppola went through Pimp My Ride film school.” — Luke Y. Thompson, East Bay Express
So I saw the film the afternoon of the day it opened. I couldn’t convince a certain someone to see it with me, even after offering to pay.
Anyway, the best thing about the film is the soundtrack. Damn,Â a bit of a mixed bag, but still not bad. If only they had the same level of writing talent. The mix of East and West sounds is pretty awesome (like that one scene in Blade with “Japanese school girl rap”). The bells in the title track — “Tokyo Drift” by the Teriyaki Boys — are pretty full on.
(Fuck knows what this Bape [Bathing Ape]/Teriyaki Boys thing is about!!! [See this video of their song “Heartbreaker” which I believe was produced by Daft Punk] Sure they do a cool retro rap thing. A bit like the Beastie Boys-ish, but pop. And in Japanese. J-rap. But I think Bape is some cool British ‘Soho‘ thing. Now in the music of an American film. About a Japanese subculture. Crazy. I think it must be too cool for me.)
The redeeming quality of the film is that it attempts to stake out some sort of transformation, one that ultimately never actually takes place. Sean Boswell (Lucas Black) goes from being a surburb-destroying drag racing trailer-trash teen in the US to a nephew-of-the-Yakuza fighting J-spec drifter in Japan. Along the way he hooks up with the only charismatic character/actor in the entire film, Han (Sung Kang), who attempts to teach him about the art of drift (see my article here) and the art of war (but in motorsport form). Really…
A lot of times when you look at magazines and websites there is a bit of front, like people are posing, you know or whatever. And I didn’t want that, you know. I just wanted to hang out. And the cool thing was, for me it’s about the subtlety. […] I remembered when I was a kid […] and you know we’d go surfing and stuff, and I got the feeling that people that drift are like surfers. They’re not all testosterone, like ‘I’m gonna kick your ass.’ and stuff like that. It was just kind of like, ‘Man, who just burned a set of wheels, let’s put another one on. That was the things that were important to me.
Which is pretty cool. The problem is that I don’t think he translated this kind of ethnological insight of the affective dispositions of drifters into the actual film. I guess one has to respect the fact he knows that he was making popcorn movies, so this insight could not be fully realised. In terms of the film it means that nothing changes for Sean in the film, his problems are resolved through racing, and he is still racing like an adolescent at the end (against Mr Muscles from the first FatF!!!!). Or, in the director’s words, the film remains part of a franchise that is all about ‘front’. Would it destroy the Fast and the Furious series if a character actually ‘grew up’ during the duration of a film?
The interesting element of the film for me is the way it did the formulaic ‘training scenes’ montage. In the previous films the ‘racing’ was just some generic bullshit, with the ‘training’ more about vehicle modification, but here ‘drifting’ has a particular aesthetic. Sean is taken to the ‘mountains’ and the light industrial/port areas to learn how to drift. Indeed, the moutain roads ‘teach’ Sean how to drift. There is a very famous face in this scene amongst the film’s unknown actors. One of the fishermen in the port/drifting scene is actually a(n) (in)famous street racer/drifter: Keiichi Tsuchiya. He is the real Drift King, and is largely known outside of Japan through the Option series of videos, in particular the Drift Bible DVD. In Japan he is a famous motorposrt personality and race car driver. However, his infamy largely derives from his involvement in the semi-biographical Shuto Kousoku Trial films. You see, Tsuchiya became a professional race car driver after being a legendary street racer. If you watch the film, then knowing this adds another level of intertextual reference. (Why don’t they make a film of this guy’s life? Infinitely more interesting than the fantasy of the Fast and the Furious.)
If they are going to make a fourth film, then they have to go to Europe (after ‘Asia’ and ‘North America’ it is the only place left) and the only place in Europe to do this film is Sweden. The Germans are not anywhere near as insane as the Swedes I met. Birka Cup anyone? Even the title is cool. Read more about some of it here. They race exotica against hi-tech Japanese against US muscle cars.
Lastly, it is funny in the way the current Labor MP of Bathurst goes on the offensive against the film to differentiate his electorate from such bad influences when the annual Bathurst motor race is an Australian cultural icon. (The West Wing has tought me so much about politics. lol!) There is no way this politician would ever actually denounce motorsport because the town of Bathurst would lose its only attraction, so he welcomes this Hollywood version of enthusiast culture so he can come out political guns blazing.