~ by Chris ‘#16’ Demaras ~
Available on YouTube and streaming on Netflix is 2005’s ‘Initial D’. It’s a live-action movie based on the Japanese manga series of comics centered around Takumi Fujiwara and his now legendary AE86.
Takumi is a high school student who has been delivering tofu to the resorts in Mount Akina in his father’s Toyota Sprinter Trueno AE86. He also works part-time at a gas station with his friend Itsuki who aspires to be a street racer. Attractive female classmate, Natsuki Mogi, is Takumi’s love interest, but she has been secretly going on dates with a Mercedes-driving ‘sugar daddy’.
All the dialogue is in Japanese, and while subtitles eliminate any subtlety to the language, there’s enough action in this movie to make you forget that you can’t understand a word being said.
The scenes of Takumi drifting the AE86 up and down the mountain roads are the highlights of the movie for gearheads. His precious cargo or tofu sits in the rear of the hatchback, suspended in containers of water. Too choppy or aggressive on the steering wheel, and the water will overflow. There’s more than a little ‘Karate Kid’ in this. Takumi battles against rival racers in the NightKids, RedSuns and Emperor Team to earn respect and become the next racing god of Mount Akina.
There’s quite a few stock characters in the movie like the goofy best-friend, spoiled rich-kid rival, and the unattainable girl with a dark secret. Basically the same characters in ‘Fast & Furious: Tokyo Drift’. The beach scenes of Takumi and Natsuki are right out of a 60’s American beach movie. Takumi and Natsuki replace Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello in this modern take on 1966’s beach party movie ‘Fireball 500’ with Mazda RX-7s and Mitsubishi EVOs.
That’s what’s so appealing about ‘Initial D’. The structure, characters and plot line are nothing new. In the ethos of Lightning McQueen, the viewer already know that hero Takumi will have obstacles to overcome before he can defeat his rival. This allows the viewer to focus on the unique Japanese car culture of late night drifting on mountain roads.