Okay, so using the big three aggregators, below is a somewhat accurate consensus of what the rankings of the Fast and Furious franchise should look like:
I’m writing this to illustrate some thoughts on why this might not be the case, and why an often-overlooked entry in the franchise should be given more credit and was perhaps treated a little unfairly by those critics who are clearly too scared to have fun.
Whilst the title of this article may be hyperbole a little, I do think that this entry managed to really make its mark on the series as a whole, introducing characters and a slightly different tone which leads to greater successes down the line. All this, without the star power of Vin Diesel or Paul Walker to back it up at the box office.
So how is Tokyo Drift unique to other entries in the series?
Aside from the first movie, this is the only entry in this series which can hold it’s own as a standalone story. Character arcs all wrap up, there is a defined beginning middle and end which adheres to “The Hero’s Journey”, and excluding the nod to the rest of the series right at the very end, this film can be enjoyed on it’s own merits, not just with the rest of the series.
Tokyo Drift introduced a character who was so well liked, so slick, so cool and with the best car in the series, that the decision to kill him off during the third act of the movie meant that the entire series moving forwards had to change timelines, adopting a prequel approach, not exploring a post-Tokyo Drift world.
This guy made eating Nik-Naks or whatever they were look like the dopest thing in the world. He was easily the best character in the movie and the fact that he didn’t get some product placement deal for his snack of choice is beyond me. KP would have been wise to invest in having Han bang on about Wheat Crunchies as Vin Diesel was about promoting Corona.
Ask anyone what the main theme song was for literally any Fast & Furious movie, you’ll likely be met with “errrrrrm, was it a Pitbull remix? Or The Prodigy…” – However, ask someone what the theme song to Tokyo Drift was, you are often going to hear a borderline racist rendition of The Teriyaki Boyz’ Tokyo Drift.
This stretches beyond the title track; the other songs features in this movie are all absolute slappers in their own right. My Life Be Like, Six Days, The Barracuda, She Wants to Move, the list goes on.
Introduces ‘Drifting’ to the West
Drift racing has been ingrained in Japanese culture and it is paid homage to throughout this entire movie, heck, the founder of drift racing makes a cameo in this very film (he’s the fisherman mocking Shaun in the great training montages). Drifting caught on to other western media following the film’s release also, with video games such as Juiced and Need for Speed Carbon all including exaggerated drifting into the core mechanics of their games.
Whether this is the case for everyone I am not sure, but this was certainly my first exposure to the sport, Initial D came before this, but didn’t have the same big screen appeal as a new Fast and Furious movie.
Cars Represent Character Growth
Similar to a Shonen battle manga, when characters undergo change, they get a new car to reflect how they have turned a corner, learnt from their actions, and grown. This is used by authors such as Akira Toriyama with the Dragon Ball series as characters undergo change, they receive a new power or ability to illustrate that change to the reader.
Using Shaun as an example of this, he starts the movie as a punk, with a beat-up pick up truck, much like himself, it looks like trash from the outside, but within is the engine and performance of a fighter.
When he moves to Tokyo, he wrecks Han’s car which leads to him not having a ride at all, symbolising how he needs to be taken under Han’s wing and learn how this new world works.
Once Shaun realises that he has the potential to better himself in his new surroundings, he receives a new Mitsubishi Evo, and pledges himself to drifting.
Following Han’s death, Shaun realises he is no longer has his mentor and he needs to step up, he makes amends with his father, faces his issues head on, no longer running away as he once would. This is where his final car completes his arc and he combines everything he has learnt throughout his journey, his own family values, his newfound friendships, everything, culminating in his Shelby Mustang, built to drift.
Each new car represents something new about the character, and that is something which I haven’t really seen in the other entries of the series. It’s also wicked to see more cars, so that’s good too.
Drifting is a Metaphor
Finally, the art of drifting itself, the focus of the movie, extends far beyond the subject matter itself. This style of racing can be seen to influence other aspects of the film, the main protagonist, Shaun, is a drifter himself, unable to focus at school, maintain healthy relationships, care for something other than himself. That is until, ironically, he begins drifting in the Japanese streets, it is within this he finds something to truly love and value. Drifting isn’t just a fad for this movie, it’s the theme that runs through every frame.
All of the above, proves that whilst the film may have a lacklustre score of 38% on Rotten Tomatoes, it cannot be understated what the film did for the series. This entry in the series paved the way for many films to follow and gave the series the jump start it needed following the mis-fire of 2 Fast 2 Furious.
Also… “Drift? What’s drift?”… “Can he drive?”…. “Downkey Kauwng?”