One of the most popular manga titles in Japan is Initial D, a car racing story that appeals to young and old readers alike. (According to the bonus features on this disc, the manga was named after the English term "starting from the D," a phrase I've never heard used.) As happens with many successful comics in Japan, this story was turned into an anime series. They didn't stop there though. There are scale models of the vehicles in the comic, clothing, remote controlled cars, a computer game and even a collectible card game. In 2005 the franchise was expanded in a way that few other manga comics have been: a live action movie was filmed. This film, entitled simply Initial D has now been released in R1 in a very nice two disc edition that boasts some nice extras along with impeccable audio and video quality. A fast paced show, this is a good action movie that moves so fast you'll hardly notice the simplistic plot.
Takumi Fujiwara (Jay Chou) is the son of an ex-race car driver, Bunta (Anthony Wong Chau-Sang). Having given up the raceway years ago, Bunta makes tofu for a living. When he's not working he's drinking or passed out on the floor, so Takumi finds himself having to deliver his father's product late at night to the customers. He's been doing this for five years, ever since he was 13, and has driven the twisting Mount Akina road so many times he could do it in his sleep. During these years he's honed his driving skills and can make it around the hairpin curves in nothing flat.
After passing a street racer on the mountain road one night, Takumi finds himself the talk of the town. Everyone wants to see him race again, even though he doesn't want to. Was it a fluke that his father's old Toyota AE86 actually beat a souped up GTR? Pressured by his father to race, Takumi finds out that he's a much better driver than anyone suspected, and creates a whole new set of troubles for himself.
This was a fun and light movie in the same vein as Fast and Furious. I haven't seen the anime or read the manga, so I can't comment on how close it is to the other versions of the story, but this film was fun, concentrating on fast races and a lot of kinetic motion to make up for the rather thin plot. It was also surprisingly funny, with Chapman To nearly stealing the show with his hilarious portrayal of Itsuki, Takumi's best friend and a wanna-be racer who just has no clue. The only part of the film that didn't work well was the romantic subplot between Takumi and the attractive Natsuki (Anne Suzuki.) This was the only thing that seemed to slow the film down and this plot line was left dangling, presumably to be tied up in a sequel.
Taiwanese pop star Jay Chou does a surprisingly good job as Takumi, a shy introvert with a fierce competitive streak. He plays his role with a calm almost bored demeanor that makes Takumi seem unsure of what he wants and also very competent behind the wheel.
This is a race movie though, and the real stars are the fast moving cars. Happily, the action scenes are impressive and very dynamic and really drive the film (no pun intended.) Directors Andrew Lau and Alan Mak did an excellent job of creating the races, making them look very exciting and even though the same stretch of road is raced over again and again, it never gets dull or monotonous. The use a lot of fancy camera work to bring this off, including some very effective split screen scenes, but in never seems too stylized or flashy. Some of the more impressive shots include one that dives inside of the Toyota AE86's engine and shows the pistons pounding away and the constant explosions that turn the wheels. There were also shots where the 'camera' started on the hood, pulled back through the passenger's compartment and then through the car that was following. The lightning fast cuts served to built up the tension and make the whole film seem to speed along. While, as I mentioned, the plot was a bit simplistic, what they lack in substance they more than make up with style.
The only real complaint I have with the way the movie was put together was the soundtrack. They used a lot of rap music in the background, and foreground while racing, but it was in English which felt a bit jarring alongside the Chinese soundtrack. This wasn't a major flaw, but different music would have improved the film.
This film comes in a two disc set, with the feature on the first disc and the extras on disc two. The irritating thing about this set is that there are three non-skippable trailers before the movie.
There are a good number of audio options included with this disc. I viewed the film with the Cantonese DTS-ES track, and spot checked the Cantonese DD-EX, Mandarin DD 5.1 and English DD 5.1 tracks. They all sounded very good, but DTS track was more full and open than the other tracks. The race scenes were especially impressive with the sounds of reving engines panning across the screen and from front to back making the viewer seem like they are in the passenger's seat. There weren't any dropouts or other audio defects.
There are optional subtitles in English as well as Traditional and Simplified Chinese.
The anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) presentation was outstanding. The image was clear and clean, and the colors were solid. The level of detail was good even in the many dark areas. Digitally the movie also looked great. There weren't any compression artifacts, and even the smoke coming off the wheels as they skidded around hairpin curves was well defined and lacking any blocking or other defects. An excellent looking disc.
The whole second disc is devoted to extras, and there's a good amount of them. A 16-minute behind-the-scenes featurette is a bit of a fluff piece, but it also shows them filming some of the car stunts, and includes interviews with the star and directors.
There are also two minute video biographies of the main characters, comparing them with the manga version and having the directors and actors relate talk briefly about the roles.
The 20-minute making-of featurette covers uses much of the same footage as the behind-the-scenes extra but there are enough differences to make this worth watching. There are also nine minutes worth of deleted scenes, five minutes worth of outtakes, (which aren't subtitled) , 13-minutes worth of highlights of the promotions they used to advertise the film, a photo gallery, and a series of theatrical and TV spots. A very good selection of bonus features.
This film was incredibly popular in Asia, and it's easy to see why. The high octane, fast paced film has a lot of action and sympathetic characters that are easy to root for. Even though the plot is pretty simple, the film has some impressive race scenes and a lot of enjoyable comic relief. Add to that are the excellent sound and picture quality and the copious extra features, and this is an easy disc to recommend.