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Fast and the Furious, The: Tokyo Drift Print E-mail
Thursday, 01 February 2007

Image High school student Sean Boswell (Lucas Black) finds himself in trouble with the law after participating in a road race that trashes both his car and that of his competitor, an obnoxious jock on the football team. Sean’s mother makes a deal to save him from severe punishment and sends him to Japan to stay with his father (Brian Goodman), her ex-husband. Initially a fish out of water in Japan, Sean quickly finds his way (via fellow American student Twinkie) into the twilight world of “Drifting”-- a type of garage and road-racing that involves sliding the rear of the car as much as possible, especially around every corner. Sean is befriended by cool “Drifter” Han (Sung Kung) and finds himself falling for Australian Neela (Nathalie Kelley) which puts him at odds with the “Drift King” (Brian Tee).

This third chapter in the “Fast and the Furious” series is a definite step-up from the dire “2 Fast 2 Furious.” This third time around, there’s less focus on the internal workings of the cars and more focus on story. The setup for Han and Sean’s friendship echoes the one used to setup Dominic and Brian’s relationship in “The Fast and the Furious” (the rookie races and loses, trashes the car and needs to earn a replacement for their mentor) but after being established, is pretty much ignored for the rest of the picture. Instead, the film focuses more on the character relationships and the races themselves. There are some functional elements in the story (Sean’s relationship with his father) that aren’t particularly developed, but the film does what it sets out to do. It plays like a live-action manga adaptation, with all the staple elements of the genre-- a fish out of water student, a cast of primarily high-school students, a lack of parents within the story, a likeable hero, an obvious villain, the yakuza popping its head in, a climactic challenge etc. The manga “Intial D” (made into a live-action film in 2005) has been telling “Drift” stories since 1995, so can most likely be cited as an inspiring source. Further underlining the manga-esque nature of the story is the film’s Japanese locations. The gorgeous and colorful Tokyo scenery enhances the story and makes it for visually interesting film. In “Tokyo Drift” the settings and ever-present neon lights are as brightly colored as the souped-up cars. It immerses viewers in its Tokyo-locale more vividly than “Lost in Translation,” and is definitely recommended for Japanophiles. While loud music is also featured here, as in the previous films in the series, it’s predominantly Japanese pop music, instead of American hip-hop and the sheer difference in tonality and instrumentation makes it seem less formulaic and enhances the world depicted in the film. “Tokyo Drift” also tends to use more instrumental scoring during the race scenes, and is less dependent on songs for those sequences. It ultimately makes the races more involving and dramatic.

Lucas Black makes a likeable lead and the youthful cast is spunky and likeable. The clash of accents is amusing in retrospect-- the lead characters must go to the most diverse school in Tokyo. There’s one sidekick who is Japanese but speaks with a British accent, Neela is Australian, Sean and Twinkie are American, and Han supposedly is native Japanese but sounds completely American. Sonny Chiba (billed here as J.J. Sonny Chiba) has a small, but important role in the last quarter of the film as the local Yakuza boss, who is also the uncle of Sean’s nemesis.

Thankfully, the undercover cop thread that appears in the first two “Fast and the Furious” films is jettisoned here, giving the characters their own personal stakes in the outcome. There’s a shocking surprise or two along the way, and while one expects a final showdown in the form of a race, there’s a tangible feeling that the story could quite easily go down a different route and evolve into a gun-play showdown. Sonny Chiba’s presence only serves to underline this aspect.

Technically, the film is near-perfect. The racing scenes are often exciting and while a large amount of green-screen and process shots were used during them, the effects work is near flawless and meshes perfectly with the on-location shots. Computer effects used to enhance some of the nighttime mountain road sequences are also of an extremely high caliber and rarely detectable.

Universal’s HD DVD release is a reference-quality disc. Continuing the high standards of the HD versions of the previous “Fast and the Furious” films, “Tokyo Drift” is presented with the same high-level of quality. The disc perfectly conveys the film, with rich, vivid colors, deep rich blacks and a highly saturated level of browns and mid-tones. Imagery is pristine and clean, with a consistent level of sharpness and clarity across the entire film. Faces are richly detailed and the bright, neon colors of the Tokyo locations are accurate and lacking in any bleeding or distortion.

The Dolby Digital Plus track is an explosive and impressive piece of work, fully active and detailed. Dialogue is clean and crisp, and atmospheric pop music is given tremendous presence within the sound-field. During the lead-up to the first drift race, there’s a track featuring a steel drum that is conveyed so vividly, there might as well be a musician performing live in your home theater. The racing scenes, naturally, are where the surrounds come into most prominent use, and the exciting mix helps give the real sense of drama and excitement.

The HD DVD disc includes all the extras from the standard DVD plus some exclusive content. “U-Control” is an option which allows you to watch the movie with different icons present-- picture in picture audio commentary, production photographs, storyboards, tech specs and GPS. As the film runs, one can click on one of these icons (some appear only for certain sequences) which turns on a still gallery, a list of technical information on the car featured in that particular sequence, a GPS map of the route the car is driving on, etc. Those are novelties, essentially, but the picture-in-picture commentary is worthwhile. It’s assembled from snippets of on-camera interviews and behind-the-scenes footage. The window is a bit small, and could be a bit larger, but it’s an interesting bonus feature. Be careful while using this feature and only hit the buttons that are indicated in the instruction booklet. If you start hitting other buttons, the “U-Control” becomes glitchy and unresponsive, and you’ll end up having to stop and restart the disc.

The rest of the extras are carried over from the standard disc and all are in standard definition. It’s a voluminous collection of material. “The Japanese Way” is a fun look at the challenges and excitement of shooting on location in Japan. It’s just under 10 mins and great fun for Japanophiles. “The Real Drift King” is a brief portrait of one of the most influential drivers on the Japanese drift craze, who also was one of the drivers on the film. “Tricked Out to Drift” is for those interested in the tricked out cars in the film and it shows how they were designed. Avoid “The Big Breakdown: Han’s Last Ride” if you don’t some fun production illusions completely shattered. The deleted scenes (with optional director commentary) elaborate on the sidekicks a bit more, but all were deservedly excised. A longer version of the race conclusion may have been worth keeping, if tightened a bit to remove the kiss. It lets the audience know the fate of one of the characters, which is unclear in the film itself. It also gives Sonny Chiba a little bit more screen time, which is always a good thing. Overall, it’s a satisfying collection of bonus materials, though your mileage may vary depending on your interest in turbo-charged cars.

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