Initial D- BRD
(Andrew Lau & Alan Mak, 2005)
Review by Leonard Norwitz
Theatrical: Media Asia, Sil Metropole & Basic Pictures
DVD: MegaStar (Hong Kong)
The edition reviewed was the Hong Kong Blu-ray, which plays perfectly well in North American Blu-ray players. The content is identical in every way to the North American edition, so there is no need to purchase this one from an Asian source if you are in the U.S. or vice-versa.
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1
Feature film: 1080p / AVC
NTSC : Region A (North America, Japan, Korea & Hong Kong)
109 minutes : 20 chapters
Supplements: in HD and SD
1 disc: BD-25 single-layer
Cantonese PCM 5.1
Cantonese DD 5.1
Mandarin DD 5.1
English DD 5.1
Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese, English
• Behind the Scene (16 min. SD/ltbx)
• Making of . . . (20 min, combining BTS + Characters)
• Characters (2 min each for 7 actors and their characters)
• Theatrical Trailers (in HD)
• Deleted Scene & Outtakes (SD)
• TV Spots & Promotions (4:3 SD)
Standard Blu-ray case.
Release Date: February 17th, 2008
I couldn't help but notice that Netflix Users rate this live action movie with 1 of 5 stars, but give the 1999 14-disc anime TV series on which it is based: 4 stars. I'm somewhere in the middle about the movie, feeling that it accomplishes most of what it sets out to do and for whom, but that it gets sidetracked by a ill-considered romantic subplot. I've only just started watching the anime TV series, which is quite long, and can readily see where Lau & Mak got their inspiration, since in some ways their film is a direct translation into film, especially in the composition of specific shots. (see anime screenshots, below)
The "D" of the title refers to the art of Drifting which is an auto racing technique permitting high speeds through turns. The idea was neatly demonstrated by veteran racer, Doc Hudson, to disbelieving rookie, Lightning McQueen, in Pixar's Cars. You'll remember how Doc turns the wheel counterintuitively in the opposite direction so to glide through in a controlled skid. The maneuver not only takes nerve, it takes communication between brain, muscle, engine, wheel and road. Correctly executed, it's a joy to behold. And that's exactly what directors Andre Lau and Alan Mak do for a good deal of their movie.
In addition to the cast of veterans like Anthony Wong and up and coming young Chinese stars (Edison Chen, Jay Chou and Shawn Yue), there is Mount Akina itself (whose actual name is Mount Haruna.) And here's what Wikipedia has to say about the real star of the movie: the Toyota Trueno AE86:
The rear wheel drive configuration, combined with the AE86's light weight (approximately 2300 lb/1043 kg curb weight), balance and relatively powerful (and easy to tune) 4A-GEU|4A-GEC engine made it popular among the Japanese hashiriya (street racers in Japanese), many of whom raced in mountain passes (touge in Japanese) where the corners suited the AE86 best, especially on the downhill. Among those who utilized this car was Japanese racing legend Keiichi Tsuchiya, also known as the Dori-Kin ("Drift King" in Japanese). Tsuchiya helped popularize the sport of drifting, which involves taking a car on a set of controlled slides through corners. The AE86's FR configuration made it well suited to this kind of cornering, and currently the car is a mainstay of drift shows and competitions. In fact most of the D1GP drivers who have competed have owned an AE86 and the last two D1GP's have been won by drivers with naturally aspirated 16-Valve AE86's; the older, lower-powered Corolla outperforming much newer, faster cars such as the Altezza and Skyline.
The Score Card
The Movie : 6.5
You might be as surprised as I was to find the directors of Infernal Affairs at the helm of a movie based on a successful Japanese manga, and targeted for your average Cantonese teenager, but so it is here. The story line is pretty simple - it would not be an exaggeration to call it shallow – but, except for a wrong turn with the romantic subplot (amply developed in the manga), the movie is fairly successful in it objective and execution. The driving sequences, which are a cleverly and artistically varied series of cornering, tailing, passing, squealing and, most of all, drifting – some in beautiful CG, some live action, nicely integrated and supported by a driving hip-hop & pop music track.
Initial D is chock full of good looking boys and girls (I hesitate to call them young adults) who race their cool cars downhill through hairpin turns for the title of "Racing God of Mt. Akina." We follow two boys - and, to a lesser extent, their fathers – through a summer of daring-do and a good deal of vomiting. Itsuki and Takumi are close high school friends who have a summer job at Itsuki's father's service station. Itsuki (the excellent character actor, Chapman To, who played a significant supporting character in Infernal Affairs, and was 32 or 33 at the time of filming Initial D) desperately wants to be a race god, but is woefully and comically ill-suited for the role. Takumi is a typically bored, undirected adolescent who has, over the course of the last five years, learned every paint stain and twist of the road delivering his father's boxes of tofu without breaking the delicate curd. It's an excellent and clever teaching device. His skill as a driver is unknown to anyone, since he is bored with everything, including himself. If he weren't good looking, Takumi would pretty much be a dud. So, until the start of this particular summer, Takumi has had no interest in competitive racing. This all changes when challenges to his AE86 become too much for his dormant testosterone, already given something of a jolt by fellow student, Natsuki Mogi, to ignore. (Natsuki is played by one of the few Japanese actors in the movie, Anne Suzuki.) We are not surprised to learn that, unbeknownst to his son, it is Takumi's drunken father who had fine tuned his AE86, always taken for a mere delivery car, until it is called on to face off against the pros.
Image : 8.5 (7~9/9)
The score of 8.5 indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray DVDs on a 10-point scale. The score in parentheses represents: first, a value for the image in absolute terms; and, second, how that image compares to what I believe is the current best we can expect in the theatre.
It's really hard to give this disc a single score. The bit rate is all over the map, though rarely falling below the mid-twenties, sometimes much higher. Most of the time, the image is very good, with shots down alleys in the twilight, for example, jaw-dropping in their dimensionality. On the other hand, there are brief moments that are downright fuzzy. And, if you were to pause on any number of frames during any one of the nighttime races, you would find not inconsiderable noise or grain, possibly unnoticed because of the distracting action speeding by. The great majority of the racing shots are outstanding – very clear, and though sometimes staged with CG effects, everything appears of a piece. Close-ups of the actors are smooth, consistent with young complexions. Older folks are slightly soft, I would guess so as not to frighten the young people in the audience. Cars – inside and out – are depicted much in keeping with the anime – which is to say: these are not Porsches. Streets are slick and the whole course on Mt. Akina is photographed as if another character, which I suppose it is.
Audio & Music : 8/8
Well, if the audio mix isn't up to par for a movie like this, you might as well hang it up. I didn't get a chance to check it out on surround, but even in a straight 2-channel mix, the audio is smashing (if that the right word.) There is one dynamite crash – visually unexpected and dramatically daring – that will give your audio system a quick kick in the pants.
Operations : 6
Easy to load, perhaps a few too many logos (typical of Asian movies), but no exhausting self-promotions or previews. The Smart Menus are straightforward and easy to use. Chapter thumbnails are shown five to a strip, readily advanced and enlarged a little when clicked. Nothing that takes advantage of the Blu-ray medium . . . which reminds me to urge Media Asia to upgrade their logo to HD. It's an insult to the format to continue to use an old lo-fi SD logo.
Translation & Subtitles: 8/2
No complaints about the translations worth mentioning – but stop the car! Unlike the excellent subtitles provided in MegaStar's first Blu-ray release, Internal Affairs, they couldn't be more wrong-headed in the present instance unless they were in a pink font. (They're in white this time, though subtly bitmapped – ugh!) The earlier release wisely placed the subtitles in the lower letterboxed portion of the frame. The next best alternative would have been within the image frame. Not so, here, where it occupies both simultaneously. If your neurology is anything like mine, this will drive you crazy, as it gives your brain yet one more task to decode while trying to keep up with the action in the movie (which is mercifully uncomplicated): that is, to separate and reconstruct the bottom and top halves of the text from their backgrounds. Just to make certain this wasn't some thinly veiled swipe at we English-speakers, sure enough: the Chinese subtitles are also so placed, as they are also in the Extra Features. The engineer that figured this out should be shot at dawn. No – why wait!
Extras : 4
The extras on both the HK and US editions are all in Chinese, but with subtitles in English. The three trailers in HD are all made for the Japanese market and are each excellent and unique. All the rest of the Extra Features are in variable quality SD, some 4;3, some letterboxed. I recommend beginning with the 20 minute "Making of" documentary, since it combines elements from "Behind the Scene" and "Characters" – the latter being 2-minute segments on each of seven characters and how the actors were drawn from the anime.
March 14th, 2008