Being a fan of the Initial D anime, I was excited and a little anxious about seeing this live action adaption. Of course, I already knew the basic storyline: Tofu delivery boy Takumi Fujiwara has an innate talent for downhill street racing, but is more or less oblivious to his own abilities. Eventually the local street racers recognize his talent and proceed challenge him to a bevy of matches where he refines his techniques and learns the ins and outs of the sport.
The live action movie compiled storylines from the first two seasons of the TV series. With so much material to work with, you might think the story would end up being rushed or disjointed. But to my surprise it all seemed to flow pretty naturally.
That's not to say that there weren't a few deviations from the original series. The biggest changes had to do with two of the main characters: Itsuki and Bunta.
In the anime, Itsuki is an overly-energetic, but lovable goof who was obsessed with joining the local racing team. In the movie, Itsuki still has the same racing obsession but now he is the rich, arrogant, bratty son of Yuuichi the gas station manager. Although I don't think I really like how they changed him, it was probably necessary to change his character somehow since the anime-version of Itsuki probably wouldn't transfer very well to live action. All his energy -- while entertaining in the anime -- would have seemed downright ridiculous and unrealistic in live action.
Bunta -- on the other hand -- has many of the same qualities as in the anime (he's still as squinty-eyed as ever), but he now has the added characteristic of being an abusive drunk. At first I was upset by this because it made Bunta seem like such a jerk. But after a while, I realized that the physical abuse was meant to be a way of toughening Takumi up for his eventual foray into the racing world. It was the same kind of indirect training that Bunta used when making Takumi drive with a glass of water without spilling any. Not that that justifies abuse, but at least it makes his motives a bit more understandable.
Even with these changes though, I thought the overall character and relationship development in the movie fell a little flat. The most disappointing of the relationships had to be between Takumi and his girlfriend Natsuki. The movie did little more than follow what was presented in the series, but in the end wasn't able resolve the conflict between them. Maybe the director was trying to relay some deeper message by leaving this plot point untied, but regardless, I was still disappointed.
Despite how lackluster the character developments were, it all took a back seat (pun intended) to the sweet racing scenes.
When I first heard they were making a live action version of Initial D, my first thought was how cool it would be to see the drifting techniques done with real cars. And in that I was not disappointed.
The great thing was that they didn't use special effects to take the place of the stunts. They used real cars and drivers. Sure there were some transitions (if that's the right word) that used special effects, but all those drifting manuvers (like Takumi's gutter technique!) were the real thing. I heard they trashed eight AE86's in the process of performing the stunts, which to me is just more of a testiment to how realistic the racing was.
The special effects that they did add worked really worked well and paid some homage to the anime. For instance, there was one effect where the camera moved from the driver seat of one car, through the windshield, then through the back window of the next car and wound up in that car's driver seat. Simple but very effective. There were also a few parts that used the split screen effect (which was used liberally in the anime) to show both drivers on the screen at the same time. All in all the coolness of the racing scenes was more than enough to make up for the movie's shortcomings.
In summary, I would definitely recommend the movie to anyone who is already a fan of the anime. And for those who are not, you may still enjoy watching those cool racing scenes; but overall I'd say that you're better off watching the anime first.