There is something so overwhelmingly moving about the Fast and Furious series. I have spent many hours of the last few weeks trying to piece together an assortment of words that properly convey the emotional power that this franchise has left on me for years of my life. There will always be this mythical unexplainable element to it that words will never be able to articulate fully, that kind of gut feeling that sticks with you your whole life and that you’ll do anything to bring back over and over again. The closest conclusion I’ve come to is that the series is currently the closest view I have to a version of masculinity that is both recognisable to me as a man who loves the aesthetic and brotherhood of traditional forms of masculine existence, and utopian in how it’s committed to the idea of men pushing past their toxicities in favour of uniting as nakedly emotional and accepting people. The Fast and the Furious has never been about anger or revenge. Whenever acts of significant violence take place from the hands of our protagonists, it is done either out of a sudden impulse or because of the need to protect the family. The ancient cultural idea that a man must protect his family has morphed here into every part of the unit must do whatever they can to redeem the lives of those they’ve lost, to cherish their memories and make the most out of a world without them.
Grief is a constant amongst the series, whether it’s the lingering presence of a deceased cast member in Furious 7, to the death of an original member of the family at the end of the original movie, to the lingering spectres of long lost brothers and sisters over every action taken. The Fast and the Furious series is one of the only modern franchises that actually reckons with death and pain and allows men to bear their souls to each other without the fear of shame. The films are homoerotic as well, lingering with sexual and romantic tension throughout each of the main instalments. There is an asexual love between Brian and Dom, the two leads of the series, that transcends beyond the need for sex or declarations of romantic love. A bond thicker than blood, a partnership that lasts throughout space and time, no matter of place or circumstance or mortality. The idea of male queerness is never directly stated in the series but yet, these films have connected more to me as a bisexual viewer than most of the explictly gay traditional forms of representation playing in multiplexes and arthouse theatres. Bonds made out of gazes, bicep curls, sweat dripping off their angelic faces behind the wheel. The look that these men give each other before a race begins has no pretence of typical masculine bravado, the egotism often seems artificial as these boys put their lives on the line to earn a form of respect that feels more important than anything in the world. The commonality between Brian and the protagonist of The Fast and the Furious Tokyo Drift, is that need for respect, respect that defies conventional forms of admiration and becomes a desperate search for validation and love.
Sean isn’t like the other protagonists in the series. He’s not really like anyone around him. Lucas Black has the face of someone out of time, he looks older and jaded and out of place anywhere he slots in. Sean doesn’t look right in a high school uniform, or in ragged clothes in a parking lot somewhere in the south. He looks like someone who never truly belongs anywhere, a phantom of a man. When he’s behind the wheel of a car, that changes. For once, his face relaxes, seems to feel natural in front of the camera lens. There is no distraction caused by his aged features or his intense accent or the lack of conventional acting ability he has as a performer, we are just lost in his pursuit of something more than he’s ever had the chance to capture. Like everyone in the series, despite differences, they are connected by a desire for family and an all consuming passion for the automobile. A factor of the series that has only recently come into mind in the last few days, working on Hobbs and Shaw coverage and reminiscing on a podcast recording I did on the series as a whole, is that I’ve always found a connection not just because of the beautiful melodrama or the subtle eroticism that emanates from each man, but because of something even deeper.
As an autistic person with an obsession over movies, it can be difficult to find a connection that properly allows me to spread the depth of my interests. I become rambling and intensely passionate, I write with a frenzy and a deep desire to get my every idea and piece of information out into the world. Movies have brought me comfort throughout all the roughest periods of my life, an escape from the situations that I’ve suffered through, a form of catharsis to reckon with my trauma or just a lingering sense of comfort that comes from sitting in a theatre and losing myself to my favourite thing in the world. All of the main characters from the series, whether it be Dom, Sean, Brian, Letty or Roman among many other members of the family, have found a form of solace in each other and the cars that they drive and piece together. It speaks to me as an autistic man. Their relationships with others that aren’t in the family are often stinted and struggling, like they’re dealing with strangers, but once that person is trusted and used to, they are just like blood. The connections run deeper than any allistic person can ever truly understand. It feels cathartic to watch a bunch of people I see myself in love each other and learn how to convey themselves through the art of driving, to express their feelings and love in the way that I have with writing.
Sean doesn’t have a relationship with his father. Sean has lost the ability to make a relationship work with his mother. Sean doesn’t have anyone left to turn to. He can’t stop himself from driving no matter the trouble it gets him in because he needs the intensity, the power that he gets from being behind the wheel, to cope with the feelings of insignifiance that his adolesence has created within him. There are two central arcs to Tokyo Drift that make it my favourite of the series outside of the perfect Furious 7, the personal relationships that Sean makes over the course of his living in Tokyo, and the methods he learns as a driver.
More than any other instalment of the series, Tokyo Drift is about the artistry of performance. The racing sequences are no longer just a display of exhilaration and tension, but an elegant form of martial art, where there is something almost spiritual in its energy. There is no skill in just intensity, in pushing your car through destruction and havoc in order to be the fastest. Using the machine as a tool of aggression leads into the cycles of toxic masculinity that the series is so steadfast on rejecting and disempowering. The racing scenes are the most beautiful they’ve ever looked in the franchise, stylish and beautifully lit in the neon industrial Tokyo nightlife. Cars glide through the frame with slickness and bombast. Colours pop out through the frame, the shine of the impeccable paint jobs burning your retinas as the cars drift. The reconciliation of natural skill and the catharsis of patience is done mostly through action and movement, Sean’s failures up against a naturally talented adversary The Drift King become the motivation for a journey of empowerment. He wants to be seen as more than a throwaway fuck up child. He wants the best racer in the city to look at him like a man. He wants to be desired and feared and respected like DK is. He wants to be a fucking beast, an alpha male, a figurehead of dominance like the ideas he’s idolised his whole life.
Yet, he doesn’t become another interchangeable driver. He learns how to care about the car, about the people involved in building it and the people who he challenges himself against. Sean learns not to just be focused on destroying, on assimilating into the conventional idea of what the best is supposed to be. He makes his own path, with the help of others, into a new future where things can be better.
While there is exposition, most of this fundamental development is conveyed through posture and the driving itself. Black, similarly to Paul Walker, has received criticism for his stoic and blank peformance in the leading role but I find his aloofness endearing. He’s doing a lot of work with just shrugs of his shoulders, the way he physically restrains his chest in sequences of tension with his father, the way his stance relaxes around the girl he likes. However, the most important aspect of the film is his relationship with a new form of father, a person that provides him with guidance and love and challenges him to think more about his place in the world. Han is widely viewed as the best character of the series because he is. An intensely melancholic cool as fuck prince, a man whose every word and glance conveys a history of pain and long lost feeling. He is immediately captivating, the way he throws keys, the attitude of apathy towards his property being destroyed and the swirling colours of his eyes makes everything stand still. The death of Han is one of the most tragic in media especially because of what preceeds and follows it. The euphoria of Sean finally finding synthesis with the car, using the lessons of his new father figure to create something more than chaos, contrasted by the immediate despair that losing the man that taught him how to open up creates inside him.
There’s a scene in the middle of the film, before the drama escalates to the point of Han’s death, where the two observe the streets of Tokyo from a height. Soccer fields, neon lights, HMV advertisements and tiny cars racing down the roads overwhelm the screen. These two men stand together in a quiet moment of conversation, as the world speeds up around them. Han talks about his struggles with existing in the absence of whatever he’s lost, and the beauty of being able to find new characters and people to trust in this spiralling haze of life. You make choices and you don’t look back. You live while you can, for the things you love, for the people that matter and all the experiences that can only be yours. There is only one you. Make the most of it. Before he dies, you get the sense as a viewer that he doesn’t regret the choices that has lead to his death. You get the sense that he is grateful to have lived and loved and passed on his skills to someone who has all his love and life left to give. Then he rides off for one last time, like the old cowboys in the westerns he used to love, and goes out in a blaze of glory.
The streets don’t look the same once you’ve lost someone. There is always a hint of their memory in there, a flash of beauty or sadness that comes from being in a space where they no longer can be. Driving will always be haunted by his loss, he will never be able to drift again without seeing the face of the man that loved him like he was blood, who believed in him when no one else would have. Sean uses that to keep driving, to keep remembering and uses his love and heart to win a race. Not for respect, not for money or fame or sex or anything else but devotion and compassion. For those who he has left, for those he’s lost and for himself. He is finally at peace with the man he wants to be. He has a future that isn’t determined by pain and regret. He is able to open himself up in a way he hasn’t ever been able to before. Because what’s life without loving someone? Tokyo Drift makes me glad to be alive so I can keep the memories of those who have faded away, so that they exist with me until I am dead. Hopefully I will be able to love people so much that I become a spectre of beauty, a reason for them to remember. A reason to keep on loving.