Car chases? Pshhhh, Hitch did it first, and usually did it better. Watch the video and see why.
What could any movie that’s all about hot cars, teen angst and burning rubber have to do with the Master of the Macabre? Actually, quite a lot.
Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift is a coming of age story. When hot-rodding neo-greaser teen Sean Boswell (Lucas Black), puts himself on the wrong side of both the law and the snooty socs in his high school, he gets shipped off to live with his absentee father in Japan.
Soon enough, he’s back in trouble—this time with the Teen League Yakuza. These guys are drifters—a skill that’s to street racing what figure skating is to hockey. Taking long corners as they slide into the curves in the hills above Tokyo, the spectacle is as graceful as it is hell on tires.
You can see where the movie’s going. Our hero has to learn the drifting technique, lose a little, gain some humility, win a little, and, finally, get the girl. Hitchcock’s DNA is sprinkled all over this movie like cherry blossoms on a windy April afternoon. When you think about it, the high-speed urban car chases that stick in our minds have only been around since—what—the late 60’s/early 70s? Up until that time, car chases or races were relatively tame by our standards—except in the case of Hitchcock.
The two movies that changed the car chase forever came from Peter Yates’ Bullitt (1968) and William Friedkin’s The French Connection (1971). These were pretty much the first two films that really gave us the roller coaster thrill ride of what we think of as the modern car chase. And here's the (cough) Hitch: both of the directors of those films were heavily influenced by Hitchcock. First of all, the car chase through the hills of San Francisco in Bullitt is almost a recreation of Scottie’s pursuit of Madeleine in Vertigo—the cars are just going a lot faster; even the locations match at certain points.
At the same time, in the French Connection, it’s really hard not to notice that this isn’t the first time we’ve ever seen a race between a train and a car. (Tip of the hat toward The Lady Vanishes.)
In fact, by the time Hitch was making Family Plot in 1974, he realized he couldn't shoot a car chase scene in that movie's San Francisco setting because it had already become cliche. As he complained his biographer John Russell Taylor: "I think if I see one more car chase bouncing over those hills I shall scream."
However, the real Hitchcockian nature of these chase scenes—what makes them so different from others—is the way they’re shot, taking on a subjective point of view by putting the audience inside the car. And that, I believe, is a technique pioneered by Hitchcock.
What these guys had been doing around 1970, Hitch did it first, drawing a straight line between Tokyo Drift and Hitchcock. Want more proof? Check out my Freak the Geek video.