The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift
This third entry in The Fast and the Furious franchise has almost nothing in common, story- or character-wise, with its predecessors. What it does share with them is an adrenaline-inducing story full of fast cars, reckless racers and short tempers just waiting to explode.
Sean Boswell is a nice guy. But he's got serious problems. The 17-year-old high school senior is addicted to speed—to the tune of seven tickets in three states, as well as two reckless-driving charges. Sean's need for speed, combined with an overly proud posture and perpetual outsider status, is a volatile combination. Everywhere his mother moves to give him a fresh start, the too-fast teen knows but one way to solve his problems: on the street.
But when his latest street race goes terribly awry, there's nowhere left for him to go—in the States. To keep him out of juvenile detention, Ms. Boswell ships Sean to Tokyo to live with his estranged father. The rules are crystal clear: Come home after school, and don't get behind the wheel of any car.
But the street is a magnet for Sean, and it takes him all of five minutes to stumble into Tokyo's burgeoning underground racing scene. Unlike street racing in many parts of the U.S., which focuses on straight-line speed, racers in mountainous and heavily populated Japan are masters of the drift—using the car's handbrake and clutch to slide around any corner at high speed. Drift racing venues include any drivable surface where curves and turns beckon, from parking garages to sinuous mountain roads.
Sean's cocksure bravado quickly lands him in a parking-garage race with the arrogant DK (the Drift King). Predictably, Sean totals his (loaner) car. Unpredictably, its owner, Han, becomes one of his new best friends. Other new friends include another American kid named Twinkie, who's always peddling American goods to Japanese students, and the beautiful Neela—who is also DK's girlfriend.
Han not only mentors the American teen in the art of the drift, but he invites Sean to pay him back for the car by becoming a pickup man for his "business." Han and DK finance their street-racing habit by dealing unnamed contraband (presumably drugs) for DK's Uncle Kamata, a much-feared Tokyo crime boss. As Sean's prowess as a drift racer grows, so, too, does enmity between him and DK. And it's only a matter of time before their rivalry on the street and for Neela's heart revs up dangerously.
Ironically, the primary positive message Tokyo Drift attempts to impart is personal responsibility. When rivalry between Sean and DK results in the death of one of Sean's friends, it's clear that DK's choices have angered his Uncle Kamata. To make things right, Sean visits Kamata, apologizes for what's happened and suggests a final race—instead of escalating bloodshed—to sort things out. Sean tells his father, who wants him to save his skin by leaving the country, that it's time to stop running and take responsibility. Great stuff. On the surface. But it's hard take seriously at the end of a movie in which characters have systematically broken the law and shown no remorse or any recognition that their reckless lifestyles could injure others.
In general, Han, Sean, Twinkie and Neela are deeply loyal to one another, even risking DK's formidable ire to protect each other. Sean, for example, steps into a fistfight where Twinkie is getting pounded by one of DK's henchmen, Morimoto. He's angry because an iPod Twinkie sold him doesn't work; to solve the dispute, Sean gives Morimoto his own. As Sean gets sucked more deeply into the criminal dark side of the racing world, Neela tries to warn him off: "You don't want to be a part of this world." Likewise, Han tells Sean, "I have money. It's trust and character I need around me."
The world of underground street racing Tokyo Drift depicts is drenched in sensuality. Scantily clad women hover around the racers and are treated like trophies. (Indeed, one of Sean's races begins with his opponent's girlfriend offering herself as the prize.) Women are ornaments; accordingly, many wear extremely short skirts and revealing shirts with plunging necklines. Legs and cleavage are frequently on display. In one scene, Sean notices a girl whose short skirt lifts briefly to reveal her underwear.
Another shot—definitely the film's most egregious, sexually—shows two women clutching and kissing. A girl removes her bra from under her shirt to use as a flag to start a race. A man slaps a woman's backside. Han and DK surround themselves with stunningly beautiful women; Han's self-esteem seems dependent upon attracting a veritable harem with his drifting skills.
When Sean arrives at his dad's apartment, he's forced to wait outside until a prostitute makes her exit.
Most of the film's violence can be classified into two categories: fistfights and car crashes. DK and Sean throttle each other repeatedly in two fights; the second fight ends with DK putting a gun to Sean's head, followed by Sean's dad pulling a gun on DK. (Both fights produce blood, as do crashes.) Sean's nemesis has a similar melee with Han. Twinkie takes hard licks in the iPod incident.
We witness at least a half-dozen spectacular, bone-rattling crashes. And during races, drivers repeatedly and viciously ram opponents to try to make them crash. A Viper is practically cut in half when it careens into a huge concrete pipe. Sean loses control of his Monte Carlo and rolls at least 10 times (after driving through a house that's under construction). Morimoto smashes head-on into oncoming traffic, resulting in a huge pile up. Han is brutally t-boned by another car. DK skids off a cliff. Amazingly—and utterly unrealistically—only one of these accidents results in a fatality after the car explodes.
An overweight kid is held down by thugs who paint his stomach with an airbrush. (Sean sees it but does not respond.) Sean guns his car when Morimoto stands in front of it, hitting him and catapulting him over the vehicle. A huge man physically hurls Sean out of a bathhouse twice.
Crude or Profane Language
Characters use the s-word at least half-a-dozen times and the f-word once. "H---," "d--n," "a--" and "p---ed" are trotted out, too.
Drug and Alcohol Content
DK and his gang regularly drink beer, champagne and alcohol. Han's "crib" includes several rooms where guests (mostly women) seem to party and drink perpetually. Several scenes take place inside dance clubs or bars. DK, Han and others smoke cigarettes, and Uncle Kamata smokes a cigar. Sean is never depicted drinking or smoking, but his dad apparently drinks quite a bit, as we see a slew of empty beer bottles in his apartment.
There's no explicit drug content in the film, but a conversation between DK and Han about when the next shipment is arriving implies that they're dealing drugs. That idea is supported by the fact that Han sends Sean out to collect money from one of his "customers," and that Han and DK seem to be swimming in cash. The movie never comments on the fact that virtually all of its characters are either aware of or participating in Uncle Kamata's organized crime syndicate.
Other Negative Elements
The film's self-absorbed street racers treat the world as their playground, appropriating roads and buildings to stage their races with little concern for property rights or others' safety. Racers use a high-rise parking garage, for example, as one of their venues, and in doing so, many "innocent" cars are damaged. In learning how to drift, Sean races around a dock area, frequently slamming into boxes that presumably contain cargo.
Han displays callous contempt for the law when he and Sean race past a police car at 197 km/h. He brags that the police won't chase anyone going faster that 180 because their "factory" cars are too slow to catch up. Sean responds with, "I think I like this country!" Kids break a lock on a fence surrounding a partially constructed housing development so they can race.
Another major concern is Sean's consistent disobedience of his father's rules. He never even attempts to comply, lies to his dad, and he faces few obvious consequences for his rebelliousness. It's clear Sean lacks respect for his father, and that he's learned his habit of running from responsibility from him. When Sean gets to Tokyo, his dad scolds, "You can't move every time you're in trouble." Sean retorts, "Worked for you."
Going into The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, I expected the same kind of wild, reckless driving glorified in the first two films (The Fast and the Furious and 2 Fast 2 Furious). And it definitely delivers on that score. From start to finish, the movie exalts highly skilled drivers who shred any pretence of concern for the law—and completely get away with it.
However, I didn't expect to hear characters delivering philosophically pretentious sound bites justifying their behavior. Han, for example, tells Sean, "Life is simple: You make choices, you don't look back." He believes that the masses follow the rules because they live in fear, and his antidote to fear is never examining his own life very closely. Neela's description of how she feels in the middle of a drift is very similar: "No past. No future. No problems. Just the moment."
These characters' recklessness, then, is about more than just racing. It's a way of life. It's carpe diem run amok. And the result is that none of them know how to live for anything other than the next addictive rush. Maximizing the moment is all that matters. Learning from the past or anticipating the future? Not on anyone's dashboard dials here.