Initial D Cover 4
Initial D Cover 4

Live-Action Initial D Still Great to Watch After 20 Years!

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Initial D Cover
Release Date
June 2005
Andrew Lau & Alan Mak
Jay Chou, Anne Suzuki
Running Time
1h 47min
fun fact
Toyota built three AE86 cars for filming
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“D” For Drift

Netflix has the Japanese mountain drift movie Initial D available for streaming. If you liked the original animated series, the full-length picture is definitely worth adding to your watch list. Initial D (the “D” meaning drift) is a Japanese street racing manga series written and illustrated by Shuichi Shigeno.

This live-action film, released in 2005 by Japan’s Avex Inc. and Hong Kong’s Media Asia Group, was directed by Andrew Lau and Alan Mak.

Initial D Tells Familiar Story In a Good Way

Initial D is a wonderfully approachable movie showing how the love for cars is universal. The whole of the film – boys with fast cars, rivals with their fast cars, wary parents, authority figures, The Love Interest – is also similar to what you see in American car movies. Watching the same thing, only with Toyotas and RX-7s and drifting, is enjoyable and comforting.

The longer I watched Initial D, the more I realized it’s a familiar story because we gearheads are familiar people, no matter what country we come from. Put another way: all car people are connected through a mutual love of cars, no matter which cars we love most. 

Takumi Fujiwara's AE86 in front of his father's tofu shop in Initial D.
Takumi Fujiwara’s AE86 in front of his father’s tofu shop in Initial D.

Setting The Stage

Takumi Fujiwara (Jay Chou) is a high school student who works as a tofu delivery boy around scenic Mount Akina. He drives his father’s – Bunta Fujiwara – Toyota Sprinter Trueno AE86. Yes, the AE86 so beloved by drifters the world over, and the car known as a Corolla here in the USA. Maybe Initial D and other movies like it are responsible for all this love?

Takumi also works part-time at a gas station with his friend Itsuki Tachibana (Chapman To), an overall nutball and walking annoyance. Itsuki’s dad, Yuichi, owns the gas station and has a past with Bunta from back in the day. There is also Natsuki Mogi (Anne Suzuki), Takumi’s attractive classmate with romantic designs on our hero, despite her ongoing secret relationship with a mysterious sugar daddy who drives a Mercedes.

The Race Is On!

There are two other friends, the street racers Takeshi Nakazato (Shawn Yue) of the NightKids, driver of a Nissan Skyline GT-R, and Ryosuke Takahashi (Edison Chen) of the RedSuns, driver of an FC Mazda RX-7. They want to race each other, but only after they defeat the mysterious “racing god of Mt. Akina.”

Yuichi and Bunta get involved because Bunta was the king of the mountain when he was young. Soon, more threatening bad guys, like Seiji Iwaki (Will Liu) of the Emperor Team in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IV, show up.

Who will win the final climactic race? Will Takumi get the girl? Will anyone get hurt? You get the picture – shoot, you’ve already seen the picture. Take out Takumi and Natsuki and the tofu shop, and put in Fabian, Annette Funicello, a Boss Mustang, and a hamburger stand in Malibu, and you’ve got a similar movie. Or Brian O’Conner, Mia Toretto, and tuna on white, no crust, and you have a similar film.

Initial D movie poster

Initial D Stands Out From Other Movies

Besides the Japanese signatures in a film like this (goofy fat guy, for example), parts of it come across as oddly American and readily familiar, as we discussed before. But you know what is different, and surprisingly so? The lack of aggression. There’s none of that mannish-boy posturing, no testosterone-fueled BS that “threatens to spill over” onto the track. There are no fistfights over the girl or insults directed at someone’s car. None whatsoever.

Even when the main antagonists are talking about their respective cars, driving styles, and win/loss ratios, it is always done with a foundation of respect and deference not found in American car movies.

When our hero Takumi first meets and talks with Takeshi of the NightKids, for example, there is an air of mutual respect and curiosity about each other. “Nice AE86. Thanks, works for me. I bet it does.” Stuff like that.

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After winning his first competition, Takumi focuses his attention on drift racing, a sport he has unknowingly perfected while delivering tofu in his father’s Toyota AE86. ~ IMDb

Should You Watch Initial D?

Initial D is understated and not overblown in its delivery and production; there’s even an unexpected nod to John Frankenheimer. I can see why this movie – and the manga comics it’s based on – were such a hit. Initial D is worth watching one night after work if you’re a gearhead. 

If you are hungry for more awesome car movies, browse through our topic picks you can stream anytime, day or night. 

Longtime Automoblog writer Tony Borroz has worked on popular driving games as a content expert, in addition to working for aerospace companies, software giants, and as a movie stuntman. He lives in the northeast corner of the northwestern-most part of the Pacific Northwest.