This weekend marks the premiere of The Fate Of The Furious, so you know what that means: time to prepare yourselves with a Fast and Furious movie marathon! Or, as we like to call them in my household, a Family Reunion. Feel free to borrow that moniker for your own Corona-soaked binge fest.
I suspect, however, that even the most ride-or-die fans will consider skipping one movie: Tokyo Drift, the third (but canonically sixth… ish) and most confusing film of the franchise. Honestly, you can pretty much omit this one from your rewatch without having missed any important plot points, and I’m sure a lot of people do exactly that. But I’m here to tell you that Tokyo Drift is still worth watching, and here’s why:
The movie uses Japanese street racing as more than just an exotic backdrop.
Given the history of Asian representation in the film industry, you’d expect a movie that features a white protagonist as an outsider in Japan to be full of tired tropes about how “weird” Japanese people are. But while it’s certainly not a perfect representation of Japan’s drifting subculture (you need to check out the manga Initial D for a better sense of what it’s actually like), Tokyo Drift is purely about street racing in a way that none of the other Fast and Furious movies are. It even manages to slip in some surprisingly authentic details here and there; for example, drifting really was invented on Japanese mountain roads, and there is a real-life guy known as the Drift King — he even makes a cameo in the movie . Heck, there are women wearing ganguro makeup in all the garage scenes. Can you think of any Hollywood movie that features any kind of gyaru fashion in a way that doesn’t make them the butt of a joke? I sure can’t.
That Tokyo Drift isn’t a collection of terrible stereotypes is thanks to director Justin Lin, who once told Variety that the original script was “all cars drifting around Buddha statues and geisha girls” and demanded that he be allowed to make changes. Speaking of which, Lin is also the reason that Vin Diesel shows up at the end, because he wanted the franchise to have a mythic, interconnected quality to it. Guess that paid off, huh?
Han really is that awesome.
Han (Sung Kang) is to Fast and Furious what Detective John Munch is to the Law & Order: SVU–he’s kind of odd but somehow still effortlessly cool, and he’s actually a crossover character from a completely different media property (specifically, Justin Lin’s solo directorial debut, Better Luck Tomorrow). He was also once the highest-scoring character in Universal Studios test screening history, according to Lin, which is why they even brought him back in the first place. Having followed him through Fast & Furious 6 adds a poignancy to his portrayal in Tokyo Drift that makes him even more compelling, especially when it all ends in tragedy.
It has the coolest car-specific stunts of the entire franchise.
Let’s be real, nobody watches F&F movies for the cars themselves anymore. You watch them because the cars fly out of airplanes and chase down submarines, and all the while the people driving them are catching missiles with their bare hands and firing rocket launchers at helicopters. At this point, the cars are simply a means to a ridiculous, wonderful end.
Tokyo Drift’s focus, however, was on the actual skill that it takes to drive a car, which resulted in some gorgeously shot drifting sequences that surpass most of the straightforward car chases from previous films. The above scene where Han snags a girl’s telephone number is absolutely iconic, and you can’t tell me it didn’t pave the way for all those other stunts with which we’re now obsessed.
It represents everything that makes the franchise great.
The best the F&F movies are gloriously ridiculous, refreshingly earnest, and committed to putting on a spectacle. They don’t care how stupid you think they are, nor do they attempt to apologize for the plot points that make no sense; they’re having too much fun playing around in their own superhero-esque cinematic lore. These movies are the epitome of the phrase “Bless this Mess,” and this is why we love them.
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift embodies all of these elements, but it made the mistake of being too ahead of its time; we ridiculed it then not because it was “bad,” per se, but because we did not understand the true potential of the franchise. It’s in looking back, now that we’ve learned to stop worrying and love the family, that Tokyo Drift truly shines — and like a fine wine, its weirdness has ripened with age. Come on, admit that watching a movie shot in 2006 and pretending it takes place in 2013 is hilarious! Admit that this mess is worthy of blessings, because it is. It really is.
So, are you convinced that you’re due to revisit Tokyo Drift? Let us know in the comments below!
Images: Universal Pictures
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