This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site, theOneliner.com
Y’know, this film doesn’t seem particularly realistic. Thanks to my glamorous and windswept lifestyle I’ve been in Tokyo for, ooh, five days now and I’ve not seen any evidence of underground racing syndicates sliding round the street corners of Ginza. From this extensive experience, I declare this film, in its entirety, to be a lie.
It is, essentially, The Fast and the Furious: Again, but with more powerslides. And, obviously, in Tokyo. Where this powerslide-o-race malarkey is called drifting. Hence name. Clever, no? This is essentially the only clever thing in this, frankly, ludicrously tenuously connected addition to the now Paul Walker and Vin Diesel divulged franchise. Well, nearly Diesel-free…
Drawling Yank Southerner Sean Boswell (Lucas Black) is packed off Japan-wise to stay with his Dad after repeated racing based misdemeanours threatens a stint in choky. The culture shock that takes place is understandable, although wiser minds than myself might question the wisdom of sending someone who doesn’t speak a word of Japanese to a Japanese-speaking school. Nonetheless aided by his new mate Twinkie (the apparently no longer Little Bow Wow), he soon stumbles on something to make him feel more at home, the aforementioned syndicates of gaudily painted, heavily tuned motor racing.
Right, that’s the cars sorted. What else does the franchise demand? Girls? Okay, we’ll give you Neela (Nathalie Kelley), an Aussie chick currently ‘hooked up’, in the parlance of our times, with king of the drifting circuit, the prophetically named Drift King (Brian Tee). That might be a nickname, I suppose. Anyhow, DK, not to be confused with the large monkey videogame star, happens to be the cousin of the local Yakuza kingpin, Kamata (Sonny Chiba), providing the final axis of evil in the formula, crime. Sean and DK quickly clash personalities prompting a duel by race, for which DK’s friend Han (Sung Kang) rather sportingly lends Sean his Silvia S15 for a tear around the multi-story car pack, which leads to Sean’s humiliation and the S15’s utter destruction.
Now in debt to Han and alienated from his father, who’s not best pleased about this racing lark, Sean is quickly assimilated into Han’s inner cabal, with Han deciding to teach Sean this drifting malarkey for some reason that’s of little concern to our current endeavour. For similar reasons of little import, DK and Han wind up having a little war that results in Sean taking up Han’s issues with DK through the medium of drifting. That’ll do for a plot summary methinks, given that it’s about the least important part of this particular flick-me-do.
Anime fans, or anyone recollecting last year’s Initial D may note the ‘similarities’ between this film and that film/anime, and indeed it makes several courteous nods in its general direction, drift training and the climactic race taking part on, if not the same mountain course, one so similar to it that it might as well be and the requisite ‘mad props’, in the parlance of our times, given to the venerable AE86. Given the lack of Western exposure to Initial D comparisons are perhaps pointless, but that’s never stopped me making them in the past and it won’t stop me now. (Hold the front page: In the U.K. at least Initial D appears to have just been given a sensibly opportunistic DVD release. Kudos, release schedulers, kudos indeed.)
This is the sort of film that gives reviewers nightmares, on the simple basis that they’re a complete irrelevance. You know exactly what you’re going to get before you buy the ticket, silly racing and drama akin to soap operatics. This it delivers, and it’s enjoyable enough for what it is. The slippy-slidey-skiddy drifting is different enough from anything else seen lately (well, apart from Initial D) to be interesting at the least and exciting on occasion. Pointing out that the acting is hardly oscar-worthy, although more-or-less adequate, isn’t going to be a dealbreaker in terms of your seeing or not seeing this.
Tokyo Drift is written with the sort of half-arsed laziness you might expect from a film where storyline wouldn’t work its way up to tertiary consideration. There’s no real need to start tying everything including mere personality clashes in with the Yakuza, other than to give another Western flick an opportunity to pay homage / lip service to Sonny Chiba. Initial D, to hammer home my current favourite obscure reference, covers much the same ground although here there’s a slight addition concerning our geographically displaced heroes coming to terms with modern day Japanese culture, which is at times so bizarre it seems not to belong on this planet. Pointing out that the story is hardly oscar-worthy, although more-or-less adequate, isn’t going to be a dealbreaker in terms of your seeing or not seeing this.
Nah, you pretty much know what to expect from this film and it pretty much delivers. It has the same flaws as the rest of the series, it being unashamedly of the big, brash, vapid school of filmmaking. This should not come as a surprise to you. To be honest, if you go to the bother of watching Tokyo Drift and end up not liking it, or at least being moderately entertained by it, it’s probably more your fault than the films. It’s perfectly up front about what it’s trying to do, and if that’s not what you want from a film why on earth did you watch it?