My initial motivation to watch Initial D was inspired by days of lethargically scrolling through Youtube playlists with Running in the 90’s playing over Eastern European dash cam footage of otherwise insignificant automobile maneuvers. The more I watched, the greater the absurdity became. We had drifting battleships, minivans on ice and… cyclists improving their aerodynamics? It became an addiction. I found myself browsing through so many of these that the song was burned into my brain and I couldn’t stop watching these clips. Yet, I didn’t really find them funny anymore. It stopped being a quest to see the silliest clip and started to become an unironic appreciation for the drift maneuver itself. Something about the barely-in-control nature of sliding your car in a direction that, by all accounts, should be extremely dangerous. These clips showed me situations where a person was probably scared out of their minds as their vehicle lost grip with the road while rounding a turn. But on the other hand, I knew other thrill-seekers did this for fun. I had seen the live action movie Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift when it came out on DVD. I knew Japanese guys were doing things on the mountain passes that would frighten most people. My childhood appreciation for cool shiny cars and my teenage love for fast music had finally come together in a fated meeting. I sought out the anime Initial D and quickly fell in love with everything it offered.
Speed of silence
Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift‘ was released in 2006 and directed by Justin Lin, and was one of the most important movies I watched growing up. I was raised by a dad who himself spent the majority of his life enamored with automobiles. We would go to car shows and he’d excitedly point out the various makes and models and chat with other guys there in a language I could not yet comprehend. I just thought the cars were cool. That love was more or less passed down to me, as I grew up watching Speed Racer DVDs, making engine noises with my mouth as I played with Hot Wheels, and telling everyone I was going to be a Nascar driver when I grew up. I watched the Wachowski’s brilliant Speed Racer (2008) live action movie in theaters and collected all the redesigned cars in both Lego and Happy Meal variants. I don’t think my parents were impressed by the flashy visuals, but I ate it up like the Fruit Loops I ate for breakfast. Even now, the electrifying finale gives me goosebumps; only matched by the final performance on 2014’s Whiplash. However, I grew older and my interests shifted gears.
The definitive “most important piece of media” I watched as a kid was the Acceleracers animated movie series. They were a series of direct-to-video computer-animated movies based on the Hot Wheels toy brand. However, I don’t think it’s entirely accurate to say it was a show based on toys, rather, it felt more like a toy line based on the movies. It expanded on their previous mini-series Hot Wheels: World Race released in 2003, which was one of the first movies I remember watching. I assume this was an experimental line of toys for the upper age range of their demographics which seemed to place more importance on delivering a compelling narrative over the selling of highly collectable cars. In retrospect, I don’t remember seeing many of the toys in stores, and they were somewhat elusive compared to other Mattel products. The creative team approached Acceleracers by expressing an interest in building off and further developing some familiar characters from the previous movie, while also introducing new faces, new cars, with a more refined concept and style. While World Race was more focused purely on racing, this series added more depth to character interactions, highlighted internal struggles, and added a clear antagonistic force. There was more time to experiment with factions, rivalries, and locations to race due to the abstract pseudo-science and aesthetics of the series. This made the movies more like a battle shounen than a purely racing story. I originally watched the special on what I believe was Cartoon Network, before later getting my parents to buy me all the DVDs from Target. I watched the heck out of these things on the many drives I spent sitting in the back of the family minivan on the cheapest portable DVD player Toys ‘R Us stocked. One of the most iconic memories in my kurorekishi is parading around my 2nd grade classroom with the Teku logo poorly drawn on a dry-erase board. Looking back on it all, the emphasis on style and electronic tunes alongside the techno-futuristic Eastern-facing style of cars of the Teku had a strong influence on me, and the things I would subsequently get into later in life. Primarily getting into EDM and Dubstep in middle school, playing Need for Speed, and then first watching anime with an open mind.
A few months ago, I stumbled across a music video on Youtube from Tokyo Drift, consisting of an extended edit from the first time we see the car club in the parking garage. I had nearly forgotten about the whole movie by this point, but rewatching this reminded me of everything I thought had been previously forgotten; shiny cars, neon lights, bassy electronic music, bedazzled flip-phones and portable Sony CD players. The saturation was turned up just enough to make the distant Japanese cities glow, radiating futuristic energy completely unlike what most were accustomed to. There is a somewhat culturally insensitive, but and otherwise playfully campy, song by Teriyaki Boyz playing over the edit. But the song is indicative of the general attitude of the movie. It’s not a particularly serious affair and sounds like one of something your cool history teacher might play tongue-in-cheek before talking about Japan. However, it leans a bit too far into common pitfalls of misconstruing the differences between Eastern and Western culture that was all-too-common during the early-2000s. But as the global market flattened and internet accessibility brought people together, there began to be an influx of Asian entertainment more readily available for the first time, which was many people’s first exposure to these things. “Culture shock” is something often parroted by foreign tourists when visiting a different culture and Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift embodies that sentiment perfectly. Many segments of the movie play out like a montage of all the “wow isn’t Japan so weird??” moments that have since become the beginning and end to the layman’s understanding of the country and culture. We have train stuffing, being late to school, fancy tech, schoolgirls in baggy socks, yakuza playing mahjong, and gothic lolita in Harajuku. The absurdity of this almost makes it feel intentional to a certain extent, since the main character would have a similarly colored experience upon landing in Japan for the first time.Though I feel like I’m giving too much credit to the movie by reading it as a “subtle commentary on cultural appropriation by means of close-minded gaijin” when it did just that for a generation of movie-goers. Instead of doing its due diligence of expanding upon common knowledge of Japanese culture and presenting it in the hottest blockbuster of the year, it nests itself comfortably within the very misconceptions it might have intended to separate itself from. But at the very least, it’s not done so ill-will. But in the end, I don’t think Tokyo Drift ever intended to have anything profound to say about any of this. The movie was a joke for many, and I thought of it as nothing more myself, but as the years went by I started to gain a greater appreciation for what it was. Regardless, Tokyo Drift was such an important cultural landmark for 20-somethings that could ask any peer and the vast majority of them would know of this movie. I can’t stop thinking about that parking garage scene.
Depending on who you ask, Tokyo Drift is either the black sheep of the Fast and the Furious franchise to which they’re indifferent towards, or it’s the best one. Tokyo Drift was almost antithetical to the Fast and the Furious formula at the time due to a shift in focus from power struggles with American muscle to technical Japanese street racing. But now I’m seeing Tokyo Drift being recontextualized as the cult classic Y2K drift movie, and it really deserves to be appreciated as such. The aforementioned shift somewhat coincided with the release of Yung Lean’s aptly named 2015 single, Tokyo Drift, signifying the inevitable resurgence of this particular aesthetic. Or perhaps his Swedish rap-collective was in the process of renewing the appreciation of nostalgic Y2K’s aesthetics through a homemade style of forward-thinking trance-inspired production and hazy vocal leads to invoke melancholic 2000’s childhood memories- it was simultaneously futuristic and familiar. This aesthetic sits comfortably within the idea of “sophistofuture” which ThorHighHeels discussed in his excellent “Mysterious PS3 Games” video. Essentially, this is a word that can be used to describe a certain flavor of 2000’s retrofuturism, where technology was advancing with a spring in its step and an excitement for the sci-fi future that awaited us. Instead of 50’s summertime daydreams we have profound sadness 2004. It’s a Piano-black PS3 with Spiderman font playing Final Fantasy XIII, a pink Motorola Razr or the skeuomorphic-inspired Windows Aero design language. While not completely in-line with this at the time, Tokyo Drift’s vivid depiction of shiny cars driving through the brightly-lit Tokyo metropolis invoke similar feelings to those found within sophistofuturism. There was something otherworldly in the polish and sheen of it all, but it still felt possible.
So when I finally sat down to finally watch Initial D: Fourth Stage, I was filled with a familiar nostalgia to that I felt when rewatching Tokyo Drift. I remembered the flashy foreign cars with spoilers and underglow swiftly gliding across the streets of my childhood’s fancy, like dancers on ice. I remembered going with my dad to car shows and being overwhelmed at how many vehicles were present. And I remembered watching rented DVDs in the backseat of a minivan and letting my imagination go wild. Initial D is a fairly grounded street racing series but it doesn’t shy away from occasionally showing off the borderline-fantastical with it’s shounen-esque powerups. Spread wings on a hachi-roku, we’re going down the mountain side-by-side. An angel in the darkness tempts us with the allure of speed, and the soundtrack compliments this energy. The music is easily my favorite part despite liking the narrative and characters throughout each season. Super eurobeat used to be played up more like a joke than anything else, but the eurobeat of Initial D is played completely straight and has so much of an impact on the viewing experience. I was filled with an urge to explore more of this particular style of vocal-eurobeat music and soon found myself listening to vocal-trance that reminded me of my early days on Youtube listening to nightcored pop tracks. I love Initial D, it’s a series that I have consistently found enjoyable and one of the few that I finally saw all the way through, regardless of the problems it might be plagued with and the direction the series eventually takes in the latter half. But more than anything else it intersected my current interests with those I had thought had been forgotten, and reminded me of my fond memories of dreaming fast.