The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift was the third installment in the Fast and Furious series. It made its debut in 2006 with a current box office estimate of $158.5 million. It is ranked a mere 37% on rotten tomatoes and was the least popular film in the Fast and Furious series. Although this film is the least popular film in the seven (and soon to be eight) film series, it was the turning point in the franchise in terms of directing. Another reason this film stands out so much from the rest was its deviation from the natural plot. The normal sequence of events in a Fast and Furious movie follows a crew completing a heist of some sort. Tokyo Drift follows the life of Sean Boswell and includes almost none of the original cast. The movie is centered on his entrance into illegal Japanese street racing and builds up to him ultimately challenging D.K, the nephew of a member of the Yakuza, for high stakes.
Justin Lin, the director of Better Luck Tomorrow, was hired to direct the third installment. He agreed on the condition that he did not want the film to just be about “fast cars driving around geisha girls,” something the previous films were notorious for. Lin wanted to make the series sleeker and decided the film had to be set in Japan to become more “postmodern.”
Lin went on to direct films three through six and Tokyo Drift marked the start of a sleeker series. Although Lin took the films in a new direction when it came to directing (see below storyboards for further insight), the audience did not respond well to the rather flat acting or the differentiated storyline. After Tokyo Drift, the films more or less returned to their natural plot, but Lin’s directing still remained to ultimately transform the entire series.
Fun fact about the movie: after negative screenings to test audiences, Universal Studios decided to have Vin Diesel make a cameo in the end of the film in order to stimulate profit. Vin Diesel and the original cast proved essential to the success of the franchise.
This was the first time that I had seen Tokyo Drift. I have seen all of the other films in the series and the biggest difference was definitely the color scheme. In all of the other films, bright colors are used almost everywhere you look. This is the kind of cheap attention that they are using to draw in audiences with while they combine this technique with constant explosions and over the top plots. Tokyo Drift was much simpler and toned down. It felt realistic. Not everything in life is full of color and I think the dark color scheme made the movie more relatable and connected with me as a member of the audience. Not to mention the plot did not involve any high tech weapons that could recognize your face from any point on the entire planet.
Besides color, I thought that the camera work inside of the vehicles genuinely made the movie great. These techniques were much more subtle, but the camerawork in the vehicles perfectly mimicked every twist and turn of emotion. The superb mix of high and low angles affectively mirrored positions of power. The most impressive technique used was varying the quality of handheld shots. When a character was losing control or in danger, the shots were shaky and chaotic. When a character was hitting his/her stride and entering a position of power the shots were stable and longer. Filming inside of a vehicle is no easy task and those were the shots that captured the entire emotion of the film.
I attended this movie at the New Parkway theatre in Oakland. The majority of the audience was white (about 90%) for this CAAM Fest film. Although this movie takes place in Tokyo, two of the four main characters are white (and they are arguably the two most central characters). This film is entirely based in Tokyo, yet we only experience the story from a white man’s view. I did some research, and it turns out that had the main characters been completely Asian, the film would have suffered huge profit losses. This was because the idea of “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift” was already regarded as ‘foreign,’ in a predominantly white American film franchise. As a result, the initial story was created to have Sean (the main character) move to Tokyo from America.
Scene Analysis: (Lens of class)
The opening scene of “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift” is a car race between a jock and Sean. The entire POV of the movie is a bystander experiencing Sean’s actions. Sean is from a lower class family and moves around constantly. He is both an outsider as a result of class and as a result of his constant moves. When Clay (the jock) catches Sean talking to his girlfriend, he immediately gets on the offense and makes fun of Sean and his car, calling him “trailer trash” and a “hick,” all the while bragging about his “80 grand,” “500 horsepower,” sports car.
Although these insults may seem rather silly, and it appears that Sean will have the last laugh by winning the race, the reality is that those insults have very solid ground in the real world. When they are at the police station, an officer tells Sean that Clay and his girlfriend will go free without a slap on the wrist because their “mommies and daddies are too hooked up.” Sean faced hard jail time at the age of 17 for the same crime that two people of a higher class will forget about in a few years after getting zero punishment. The silly comments made earlier become all too real and reflect powerfully the lens of Sean as a lower class.
Shot 1: (29:00-31:30)
At first glance, these two shots seem rather similar. In this particular scene, Sean is racing in Tokyo for the first time against D.K (the nephew of a powerful member in the Yakuza). Sean does not know how to drift and is losing badly to D.K. The low angle used with D.K embodies the position of power that he has over Sean in the race. Sean’s eye level angle conveys that he is not as powerful as D.K in this moment and also conveys a lack of stability. The low angle shot with D.K is shot with little shaking while the eye level shot with Sean is shaky and shorter, creating a type of chaotic feel. Lastly the shot with D.K is a medium shot, allowing the camera to observe his fluid motion as he shifts gears, turns the wheel, and shows less emotion. The other shot is a close up of Sean, allowing the camera to see his emotion (which shows that he is out of his element) and also restricts the camera from seeing some of his hectic movements (shifting gears and turning the wheel) that creates a rushed and uncoordinated feel.
Shot 2: (1:02:35-1:03:25)
This shot is the scene where D.K beats up Sean after finding out that he had been driving with his girlfriend (Neela). This entire scene is shot on a handheld camera (even leading up to the actual action) and it forces the audience to lose a sense of control. D.K is only portrayed with a low angle shot while Sean is only portrayed in a high angle. These angles are meant to establish D.K in a position of power and Sean in a position of weakness. Twinkie can be seen in the back, completely helpless and unable to help Sean.
Shot 3: (1:11:15-1:16:09)
This is the shot moments before Han’s car is slammed into by another vehicle, ultimately leading to his own death. Before this, there is a chase, and the shot lengths were used very effectively during the entire scene. At the start of the scene, the shots of Han and D.K were rather lengthy, but as tensions built, the shots became more and more hectic; shortening and becoming shakier. This shot is the final shot in the chase and it more than a second long. Every other shot leading up to it had been a fraction of that length. The build up of the speed creates a very chaotic feel that eventually plateaus into this shot where the audience is entirely caught off guard by the big crash. Another element that greatly helped the overall affect of the crash was the music that stopped the moment of the crash.
Shot 4: (1:29:15-1:34:26)
These shots are taken from the final race scene between Sean and D.K where the loser must leave Tokyo. This shot is interesting because it is the exact opposite from their first race (shot 1 above). This time, D.K is shown at eye level, having lost his position of power. He also has a close up that clearly reveals that he is sweating. Sean is shown at a low angle, having taken over D.K in the race and as ‘drift king.’ His close up, opposite to D.K’s creates a stronger position of power as it reveals he is smiling. The shots of Sean are long and steady, aiding his emotional close up in convincing the audience that he is now in control. The shots of D.K have become shorter and shakier allowing his loss of control to be revealed both through his emotion and through the camera work.
Finally, for your viewing pleasure I have provided a brief short film reaction to Tokyo Drift to showcase my own driving skills. Just a bit of background: Each song used in the short movie is taken directly from the Tokyo Drift itself. Also, many of the shots are modeled after the ones used in the real life movie. Have fun watching this little short film and take pleasure in watching my friends make fools of themselves while I school them in some Oakland Drifting. Enjoy!
James Burwick (4/4/16)