Guest Writer and Wayfind Scholar: Cristopher Puente
The Fast and Furious franchise is one of the biggest franchises in the world, grossing over six billion dollars at the worldwide box office. What started out as common street-racing films have evolved to include heists, spies, emphasis on family, and expensive cars. When even looking into the latest Fast Saga film released last year, audiences can clearly see the departure from the original three films.
Notably known for being the lowest-grossing film in the franchise, Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift still stands the test of time as one of the better Fast and Furious films mainly due to the cinematography and storytelling by Justin Lin.
Tokyo Drift focuses on the main character Shawn, a high school car enthusiast that constantly stays in trouble. We find out Shawn makes his family move around consistently, so Shawn gets moved to Tokyo, Japan. Shawn meets new characters who would become friends, but also others who feel Shawn isn’t welcome on their turf. Shawn begins to learn how to drift, build trust, and correct mistakes that he created.
Tokyo Drift always shines in the technical aspect, as the cinematography of the film is great, illustrating Tokyo, Japan with wonderful shots of the skyline and tightly confined spaces that make the viewer become encapsulated with the city. This great showcase of the city adds to the action scenes, allowing pacing and tense scenes to flow well. The shots shown in the film are not confusing or overwhelming for the audience, making it mirror the simple plot.
Featured in the film were cars having great diversity, ranging from American muscle going in straight lines to Japanese cars drifting around narrow tight corners. The car Shawn uses in the climax of the film is a 67 Ford Mustang, swapped with a Nissan RB engine, this car is very controversial however since it’s an American car on Japanese streets, with a Japanese engine in it. Originally, it was supposed to have an American V8 which in technicality may not work. The car causes spark, which is not common in Mustangs, making this type of car extremely special for the film.
A confusing narrative aspect of Tokyo Drift is the timeline of the film. This is not easy to understand since the film was produced in 2006, with the technology of that year, yet the film’s setting takes place in 2016. You can see the problem where the technology does not match the time of the film’s setting. Tokyo Drift is the 3rd installment in the franchise but in the Fast world, it takes place 6th or 7th, creating issues with the other films that have been released.
While Lucas Black does his best to play Shawn in the film, the uncanniness of his “high-school attitude” is off-putting. You can also see this when Lucas Black’s character goes to Japan, and we can view the difference between Shawn’s character and everyone else who looks like they’re supposed to be in High School.
When Tokyo Drift was released on June 16, 2006, it was considered a commercial failure compared to the other Fast and Furious Films. At the time it had a lot of mixed reviews where it got praise for its driving sequences and some criticism for the screenplay and performances by the actors. It had no Paul Walker or Vin Diesel who became drawing factors for audiences to return. This film didn’t make much money at launch but what came after the film has had a lasting impact. Director Justin Lin who directed Tokyo Drift would come back and direct more Fast and Furious films that have projected it to what it is today.
Justin Lin has also directed Better Luck Tomorrow, almost all Fast & Furious films, and Star Trek Beyond. For the upcoming Fast franchise film, Justin Lin has left so his signature style and action sequences may change in the next installment.
Even with its flaws, Tokyo Drift is a great action experience. No matter what is happening or being done in the film, it all feels correct in the fictional world. The simplicity of the film’s plot is another reason I find Tokyo Drift so special. The whole conflict of Shawn’s character against himself and others is great to see in modern cinema, and no audience member would ever root against the underdog. Mirroring that of the franchise itself, Tokyo Drift is the unsung underdog of the Fast and Furious franchise.