Tokyo Drift

“You’ve seen it all before, except that you haven’t, not quite this way.” — Todd McCarthy, Variety

“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, 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…

The director Justin Lin, says something interesting in this interview (from here) about drifters and surfers:

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.

27 replies on “Tokyo Drift”

  1. “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.”

    I’ll confess I haven’t seen any of the Fast and Furious movies, but I gotta say this is one of the best reviews I’ve read in a long time. Too funny (and, it appears, too true)…

  2. scot, the review was pretty much spot on. There is a scene that is a total rip off in Tokyo Drift from LiT involving the room of flashing lights and jerky players of weird video games.

    mel, wow. thanks for the link.

    It is a doifferent political move than the cynical politico-cultural logic as the Bathurst Labor MP’s move to denounce the film. The prefilm vs film is a really good example of a battle of affects and the various ‘apparatuses of capture’ that are deployed. On one side is the spectacular hollywood seeking out the libinal energy of frustrated adolescent hormonal males caught up in the fantasy of the ‘street’ as an escape, and the car and driving practices as a display of power or prowess. On the other hand is the governmental road safety attempting to tap into the fear and anxiety of the responsible ‘adult’ and bring subjecthood back into the orbit of ‘death’.

    The recent road safety ads constructed initially to appear to be ‘new car ads’ work the same way to capture the affects of freedom and joy of ‘hitting the road’ juxtaposed against the brutal reality of reckless endangerment which then *affectively pollutes* the joy and freedom of ‘hitting the road’ with what happens when the road hits back.

    The opening scene where two high school students race through a ‘new’ suburb that is under construction and utterly destroy the frame-houses, their cars and almost themselves is an absolute classic of trashy cinema. BTW, the g/f of the jock racing against the hero puts _herself_ up as the _prize_ of the race!!! Talk about prosti-teen culture post-Paris! It is so bad and done so well that it is almost good.

    If they really want to curb the enthusiasm of young male drivers, then they should force them all to watch the nihlistic schizo-gone-bad Mad Max-alter-ego _Metal Skin_. That’ll teach ’em.

  3. Excellent post, Glen, and very insightful. I’ve been looking forward to the film because of moments in the trailer where Lucas Black (the kid from American Gothic – wtf!) records a drifting car on his phone, and we watch from other the shoulder. That doubling of screens is one thing, but the two guys are now the next row in the cinematic audience.

    I had watched some videos on Youtube under the heading “Crazy Arab Drifting”, which is ripe for all kinds of readings…

  4. yo, there is heaps of that phone stuff in there. there are also a few racing scenes that depict the racers being filmed.

    in the first race scene there are some yahoos on the back of a big f-series ford truck filming the viper and monte carlo (i think?) destroy a newly minted suburb.

    IN the drifting race scenes set in the car parking structure the crowd has mobile phones and they are depicted trying to film the cars going around the corners. What is weird is that in the middle of the race scenes the cinematic camera dwells on the crowd for half a second to show them showing their phone-films to each other (signified by the tilting the phone gesture, but it happens too quick for them to actually be showing each other).

    The second instance of filming is another way of representing ‘action’ on screen. ‘Action’ is what motorposrt cinematography attempts to capture and transmit. It is an event. The virtualisation of this event, within the event by the mobile phones, demonstrates to the audience that something is happening that is worth capturing and transmitting (by the Japanese spectators to each other in the crowd). The virtualisation is a valorisation.

    In the first instance of filming (opening race scene), the audience never sees any post-filming interaction, only the relatively statis ‘camera guy’ filming on the back of a truck. It recreates the spectator-spectacle relation between what is happening with the race (as spectacle) and the spectators (us as audience, but also all the other teenagers in the film). This is one of those moments where the spectacle of racing and enthusiast car culture is overcoded almost entirely with a reckless machismo masculinity. The Japanese race scenes are also about machismo but there is a certain grace to them that the US scene certainly does not have. Part of this is because of the fluid drift aesthetic.

    Hmm, I am sure there is much more but I need to see the flick again.

  5. Actually, using the phones is quite a masterful way of representing the ‘action’ when you compare it to the first film’s use of CGI that was used to literally penetrate the car all the way to the core of its being — the combustion chamber. One is a vertical-depth model and the other literaly spreads the event out across the surface of the event through the phones.

  6. I really like that they’ve displayed the video-phone thing.

    This is a pedantic car-nerd aside, but you might see something in it:

    In the first film, when they go “into” the engine of Dom’s RX-7, the rotors are turning the wrong way.

  7. Well I still haven’t seen it but this idea of the valorisation of the virtual is very interesting; the collusion of the witness with the driver for who controls the event, which is about the demonstration of skill.

    Good comments on McKenzie Wark’s site, too, dude.

  8. Hi Glen!

    I found your review via Google and it was surprisingly honest and spot on with my own thoughts. I also thought the soundtrack was awesome and I enjoyed the trivia about the fishermen 🙂

    I thought there were also a lot of cultural subtleties in the film which made it better than the first 2 movies. The first is the switching to slippers scene in the classroom, the use of camera phones *everywhere* by everyone at all times, the scene where they get meals from the vending machines and the car parkade scene where the cars keep rotating until the right one. I thought these quirks only added to the movie and made it even more interesting.


  9. Hi, I found this through a Google search. I enjoyed reading your review very much; especially the insight about drifting as life philosophy, a kind of mental zone rather than aggro-competitiveness (and this is actually the distinction that made Vin Diesel’s cameo at the end perfect – he fits in here, when we all know that Sean doesn’t).

    Anyway, since you liked the soundtrack, I thought you might be interested in this post I’ve just made.

  10. this movie is pretty kick ass and my favorite song on it is my life be like ooo ahhh how bout urs???
    does anyone know what car van diesals is in the end????

  11. Does anyone know what the last song is. just as you see Dom’s car and sean pulling up to it (the NEW DK VS DOM)?

  12. Does any one know a link to download the Fast and The Furoius Tokyo Drift Mobile Game for free on the internet?

  13. my life by like is the song title you were looking for by the grits

    and i have a question at the end of tokyo drift what car is sean driving when he races dom?

  14. i loved this movie, the 200SX that seans bout to race in at the end (very last scene) is the best car imo.

    looked around for a while and couldnt find a pic of it 🙁
    anyone got one? lol

  15. Oh almost forgot while im here, anyone know the song at the start of 2 fast 2 furious?

    Its the one that starts when when the main guy (forgot his character name) is driving to the race in the shyline

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