Initial D: Comparing the Movie to the Manga

Initial D, the big screen live action adaptation of Shuichi Shigeno’s wildly popular street racing manga, made it’s long awaited debut to Hong Kong audiences this summer. Since then, it has become Hong Kong’s top grossing movie of 2005.

Expectations

Fans of the manga and the anime series waited in anticipation, and the hype surrounding Initial D was definitely intensified by the actors who portray Shuichi Shigeno’s characters. The Initial D cast includes action film veteran Anthony Wong, the lively Chapman To, and young pop celebrities like Jay Chou, Edison Chen, and Anne Suzuki, among others.

Initial D is produced by Andrew Lau, directed by Lau and Alan Mak, and the screenwriter is Felix Chong. The Initial D manga screams of youth and the adrenaline-charged world of street racing, and the crew worked behind the scenes to effectively convey these kinetic elements.

The Chinese production of the Japanese Initial D has many impressive moments, and though the races could be more intense, the movie brings to life the impact of Shuichi’s volumes through tension, dynamic camera angles, spotless computer-generated imagery, and the pulsing synthetic sounds of Eurobeat.

It is true that audiences with very high expectations may find themselves let down, while it is also true that those in search of an appealing and easily digestible racing movie can find it in Initial D.

Jay Chou

In his cinematic debut, the Taiwanese singer Jay Chou portrays the bored Takumi Fujuwara, a high school senior who doesn’t realize that years spent delivering tofu through winding mountain roads have made him the ultimate street racer in a most unlikely vehicle: his father’s Toyota Trueno GT-APEX AE86, commonly referred to as the 86.

Unknown to Takumi, his drifting techniques and expert handling of the 86 have inspired the name “Ghost of Mount Akina” amoung the area’s passionate young racers. They all want to take on the mysterious and anonymous driver. When Takumi is discovered, he’s less than eager to race, but he soon finds himself a part of the local scene. His modesty and unconquerable driving heighten his new status as a racing idol.

Shuichi Shigeno’s Takumi possesses a spaced-out and somewhat indifferent disposition, and Jay Chou delivers a rather accurate interpretation, though he sometimes seems more comatose than cool and laid back. A bit of Takumi’s emotion is missing in Chou, but one can also attribute some of this to the movie’s lack of narrative.

Anthony Wong

Anthony Wong plays Bunta Fujiwara, the former expert street racer turned tofu chef, and father of Takumi. He strikingly resembles Shuichi Shigeno’s version of Bunta, and he adds more personality to the character.

In the Initial D manga, Bunta is the silent and stern father figure. He is always cool and in control. In the movie, Bunta possesses these qualities, but, the flip side of his personality is that of a raucous drunk. This adds a new, intense dimension to the relationship between father and son. Takumi often takes care of Bunta, and they seem to switch roles — something that never happened in the manga.

Chapman To

The 33 year old Chapman To does a surprisingly good job at portraying Takumi’s best friend, the high school student and self-proclaimed hot shot, Itsuki Tachibana. The Itsuki portrayed by To is also more likable and jovial than the manga character.

Anne Suzuki

Anne Suzuki plays Natsuki Mogi, Takumi’s love interest. She brings a softness to a movie full of speed, rivalry, and reputation.

The relationship between Natsuki and Takumi comes across as unnecessary and irrelevant to the movie’s plot. Some will say that their romance seems out of place in the manga. This is even more noticeable in the movie, because important details about their relationship are excluded.

The Initial D movie, barely over 100 minutes in length, accurately reflects the contents of a lengthy manga series spanning over 30 volumes. Fans of the manga will notice condensed elements and more strikingly, combined characters.

In the movie, a friend and co-worker of Takumi and Itsuki is cut out of the story, but his actions are conveyed through Itsuki. Also, the Takahashi brothers, leaders of the Akagi RedSuns racing team, are combined and conveyed through Ryousuke Takahashi, who is played by Edison Chen.

Overall, Initial D is rather consistent with Shuichi Shigeno’s original manga. For those who have not read the manga, the movie starts to drag along at a certain point. The characters lack emotion at crucial moments, and it seems that they are going through the motions. Despite the coldness that this causes, Initial D’s intricate racing, unique style and seamless CG make up for shortcomings, and outweigh what the movie lacks.