As an import car aficionado, it was pretty much mandatory that I see all of the Fast and the Furious movies - but as a long-time Nissan/Datsun fan, I was deeply disappointed in the first two, in which barely a Nissan is spotted aside from the Skyline. Oh, there's a couple 240SXs off in the background, but you only ever even get a good look at one of them. However, it's widely accepted that Nissan has made the majority of the best drift cars, and so this movie does not share this particular failing.
Warning: This "review" will be as much car babble as movie review. You have been warned.
Tokyo Drift's title pretty much sums up the movie; it's about drifting in Tokyo. Our protagonist Sean Boswell (Lucas Black) begins the movie by racing a viper with his souped up 1971 Monte Carlo. For those who think that this sounds ridiculous, it's fairly trivial and even inexpensive to get a classic V8 (e.g. the Chevy 350 short block) over 400 horsepower; you can actually do it for about $500 in ebay parts plus a big carburetor. The '71 Carlo came with either a 350, 400, or 454 motor1 and they built two of these cars with more power than a viper: "one with the 560-horsepower 509 aboard and the other with a 700-hp, 572-cubic-inch Bill Mitchell "Hardcore" crate engine". That's right, you can get 700 horsepower in your Monte Carlo by dropping in a prebuilt motor. Anyway, back to the movie.
After a lovely scene in which the kids in the viper get off scott free because their parents have money, Sean is sent off to Tokyo to live with his ex-pat father, who tells him that if he's going to live under his roof, he has to follow his rules, which boil down to "come straight home after school" and "don't go near a car". Sean immediately befriends a fellow American, an army brat with a penchant for the selling of stolen goods, who rapidly gets him involved with the world of drift racing.
The plot is pretty formulaic and contains all the of the elements you would expect including Yakuza-related complications, but the drifting is absolutely top-notch - as one would expect from a movie whose driving choreography (and much of the driving itself) is done by Keiichi Tsuchiya, the legendary "Drift King". His story is much like the protagonist of the (low-rent) anime series Initial D - he drove the mountain roads in all kinds of weather, honing his driving skill. (As far as I know, however, he was not delivering Tofu at the time.) He gained the name "Drift King" by actually using drifting in GT-type races, where it is typically not considered a valid technique. As any racer will tell you, a drift is typically not the best speed through a corner, but one thing it can provide you is a good setup on the next turn. Keiichi primarily utilized the drift on downhill corners, where gravity helps replace the speed you're scrubbing away with your tire rubber. Keiichi also appears in the movie as a fisherman who sharply criticizes Sean's drifting ability.
The cars used in the movie, again, are mostly icons of the drifting scene. There are absolutely tons of Nissans; the main antagonist drives a 350Z. I'm not sure why they used the Z instead of the Skyline V35 - they're basically the same car but with different badging, and the Skyline name is the most revered in Japanese sports cars. It too is a king - the "Battle King". Regardless, the stock Skyline V35 350GT Coupe weighs 1540-1550kg and has a motor identical to the 350Z, which weighs 1514-1544kg. I'd have thought that just putting the Skyline-badged vehicle into the movie would have been good for another 5% profit or so :)
Besides the Zs (there are several actually) we see tons of Nissan Silvias and 180SXs, what we call the 240SX here in the US. In fact I was able to pick out S13, S14, and S15 Silvias, as well as at least one Sil-eighty (S13 type.) This is unavoidable; there is arguably no finer car for drifting than the S13 Sil-eighty. The fastback has slightly better weight distribution than the coupe even with the pop-up front headlights, and converting to the Silvia front end (non-popup) when you have the two liter turbo engine (SR20DET) gets you pretty much to 50/50.
But the strangest addition was the protagonist's Lancer Evolution with the front differential disabled. That's right, it's an all wheel drive car converted to rear wheel drive. There is in fact no RWD Lancer; the base Lancer is a FWD commuter car (midsize Japanese sedan) with no power and no redeeming features, while the Lancer Evolution is all wheel drive, has a stiffer frame, and so on. In fact, the FWD lancer is a particularly stupid car to buy because a vehicle designed to be FWD is always better at it than one designed to to AWD, but implemented as FWD. Your later-model Subarus (about 1993+) are the same story, although 1996+ models are all AWD in the US. Okay, end of this digression.
And let me just briefly touch on the issue of the last car the hero drives, a 1967 Ford Mustang with a Nissan engine transplant. See, the first car our hero trashes is a Nissan Skyline described as the "Mona Lisa" of drifting. I think it's an R34 but honestly I was paying more attention to the driving than the headlights. This is the only car available when he needs to make one final race to be the hero, besides his pop's half-restored Mustang. They transplant much of the Nissan's hardware into the car (including, apparently, portions of the suspension) and he proceeds to rip up the race with it. Now, this is not necessarily as ludicrous as it seems. The Mustang's one big failing was a fixed rear axle. The front suspension in the mustang is a double wishbone, which I would probably leave alone unless I was trying hard to shave weight.
The engine was left mostly stock with the exception of a bolt-on single turbo system. Stock power is a conservative 280 brake horsepower; Japanese regulations forbid rating vehicles higher than this, even if they have more power. The single turbo system brought the mustang to 340 rear wheel horsepower. The engine retained the stock five-speed transmission. The Mustang doesn't even weigh all that much; 3400 pounds stock, which is actually less than the 1990+ Nissan 300ZX (Z32). Strip out the unnecessary parts, drop the stock live axle for the multilink, and you can probably get the weight down close to the ~2700 of the Silvia. But unfortunately, that's all the power they milked out of it, and that was just to get it up to enough to drift. However, Jun Auto, one of the most famous Nissan tuning companies, has a Twin-Turbo Skyline R34 with - no shit - 1,600 horsepower. It's considered to be fairly simple to get the Skyline's RB26DETT motor up to 600 horsepower (although, of course, it is still expensive.)
Okay! Enough babbling - you get the point, I'm a Nissan freak. The moral of the review is: The story is stupid, formulaic, and doesn't even bear mentioning, but the cars and the driving do. If you still haven't caught this, but you're interested in drifting, see this movie. Just don't expect there to be a lot of worthwhile story.
- 1. "Chevrolet Monte Carlo." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 19 Oct 2006, 05:56 UTC. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 19 Oct 2006 <http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Chevrolet_Monte_Carlo&oldid=82369619>.