This film's story occurs sometime after Fast & Furious 6 with a scene that was later made concurrent with events in Furious 7
In Oro Valley, Arizona, 17-year-old high school students Sean Boswell and Clay race their cars to win the affections of Clay's girlfriend Cindy. When Sean cuts through a structure and catches up to Clay, Clay hits Sean's car repeatedly until they reach a high-speed turn, which causes both cars to crash; Sean's car is totaled. Clay and Cindy's wealthy families help them escape punishment, but Sean is sent to live in Tokyo with his father, a U.S. Navy officer, in order to avoid juvenile detention or jail.
While in Tokyo, Sean befriends Twinkie, a military brat who introduces him to the world of drift racing in Japan. Sean has a confrontation with Takashi — the Drift King (DK) — over Sean talking to Takashi's girlfriend, Neela. Though forbidden to drive, Sean decides to race against Takashi, who has ties to the Yakuza. He borrows a Nissan Silvia from Han Lue, now a business partner to Takashi, and loses, totaling the car due to his inability to drift.
To repay his debt for the car he destroyed, Sean agrees to work for Han. This leads to the duo becoming friends, with Han agreeing to teach Sean how to drift. Han also loans him another car for future races, explaining that he is helping him as Sean is the only person willing to stand up to Takashi. Sean moves in with Han and soon masters drifting, gaining some repute after defeating DK's right-hand man, Morimoto. Sean soon asks Neela out on a date, and learns that after her mother died, she moved in with Takashi's grandmother, which resulted in their relationship. Takashi beats up Sean the next day, telling him to stay away from Neela; Neela subsequently leaves Takashi and moves in with Sean and Han.
Takashi's uncle Kamata, the head of the Yakuza, reprimands Takashi for allowing Han to steal from him. Takashi and Morimoto confront Han, Sean, and Neela about the thefts. Twinkie causes a distraction, allowing Han, Sean, and Neela to flee, who are then pursued by Takashi and Morimoto. During the chase, Morimoto is killed in a crash, leaving Takashi to pursue the trio on his own. Han allows Sean to overtake him in order to hold Takashi off, but the chase ends when Sean and Neela crash. Meanwhile, moments after escaping from Takashi, Han is critically injured when his Mazda RX-7 is rammed by another car. Han's car explodes, killing him just seconds before Sean has a chance to save him.
Takashi, Sean, and his father become involved in an armed standoff which is resolved by Neela agreeing to leave with Takashi. Twinkie gives his money to Sean to replace the money Han stole, which Sean then returns to Kamata. Sean proposes a race against Takashi, with the loser having to leave Tokyo. Kamata agrees to the challenge, but on the condition that the race take place on DK's mountain. With all of Han's cars impounded, Sean and Han's friends then rebuild a 1967 Ford Mustang that Sean's father was working on, with a Nissan Skyline engine salvaged from Han's Silvia that was totaled by Sean in his first drift race, and other spare parts.
That night, on the mountain, crowds gather to see the race; Takashi takes the lead initially, but Sean's training allows him to catch up. Determined to win, Takashi resorts to ramming Sean's car, eventually missing and driving off the mountain while Sean crosses the finish line. Kamata keeps his word, and lets Sean remain in Tokyo and is now christened the new Drift King.
The next night, Sean is challenged by and races Dominic Toretto who claims Han was family.Lucas Black as Sean Boswell, a 17-year-old social outcast sent to live in Tokyo, who befriends Han and learns how to drift.
Nathalie Kelley as Neela Turner, Takashi's love-interest who later falls for Sean. She is an outsider whose mother died when she was ten.
Sung Kang as Han Lue, Takashi's friend and business partner who becomes friends with Sean and teaches him how to drift. He owns and operates a tuning shop.
Shad "Bow Wow" Moss as Twinkie, Sean's first friend in Tokyo, and who introduces Sean to the drift world. He dislikes racing, and sells stolen American goods to classmates and drivers.
Brian Tee as Takashi, the reigning Drift King. He is a professional street racer and is feared due to his uncle's position in the Yakuza.
Lynda Boyd as Ms. Brenda Boswell, Sean's mother and ex-wife of Lieutenant Boswell.
The central cast contains Leonardo Nam as Morimoto, Takashi's right-hand man. Brian Goodman plays United States Navy Lieutenant Boswell, Sean's father. Zachery Ty Bryan and Nikki Griffin portray Clay and Cindy respectively, who are involved in the first race in the United States. Sonny Chiba acts as Kamata, Takashi's uncle and head of the Yakuza. Jason Tobin also acts as Earl and Keiko Kitagawa appears as Reiko, friends of Han. Vin Diesel returns as Dominic Toretto in an uncredited cameo appearance.
Neal H. Moritz, who had produced the two previous installments, began working on the film in 2005. On June 8, 2005, Moritz hired Justin Lin to direct The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. Lin, who wasn't intimately familiar with drifting when he was approached to helm the project, recalled: "I was in film school when The Fast and the Furious came out, and I saw it along with a sold-out crowd who just ate it up. What really excited me about directing this film was the chance to harness that energy—create a whole new chapter and up the ante by bringing something new to the table for the audience who loves action and speed."
Vin Diesel agreed to make a cameo in the film in exchange for Universal's ownership to rights of the Riddick series and character, in lieu of financial payment.
The Nissan Silvia which Sean trashes in his first race in Japan is depicted as having an RB26DETT engine swap which itself is donated to the Ford Mustang. However, the car in the movie was actually powered by the Silvia's original engine. The Veilside body-kitted Mazda RX-7 driven by Han was originally built by Veilside for the 2005 Tokyo Auto Salon, but was later bought by Universal and repainted from dark red, to orange and black, for use in the movie. The car in which Dominic appears in at the end of the film is a highly customized 1970 Plymouth Satellite, which was built for the SEMA show.
SCC tested the cars of the film, and noted that the cars in Tokyo Drift were slightly faster in an acceleration match up with the cars from 2 Fast 2 Furious.
Notable drifting personalities Keiichi Tsuchiya, Rhys Millen and Samuel Hubinette were consulted and employed by the movie to provide and execute the drifting and driving stunts in the film. Tanner Foust, Rich Rutherford, Calvin Wan and Alex Pfeiffer were also brought in as none of Universal's own stunt drivers could drift. Some racing events were filmed within the Hawthorne Mall parking lot in Los Angeles, as filming in Tokyo required permits the studio was unable to obtain. They instead used street lights and multiple props to help recreate Tokyo.
Toshi Hayama was also brought in to keep elements of the film portrayed correctly, who was contacted by Roger Fan, an old high school friend who starred in Lin's Better Luck Tomorrow. Hayama ensured certain references were deployed correctly, such as the usage of nitrous oxide in straights but not in turns, and keeping the usage of references from sponsors to a minimum. One of Kamata's henchman has missing fingers, a punishment typically deployed by the Yakuza. He had to have the missing fingers digitally added in to appease cultural concerns.
Tokyo Drift brought in over $24 million on its opening weekend. The film itself was in limited release in Japan (released under the name Wild Speed 3). The US box office was $62.5 million, and it grossed another $95,953,877 internationally, resulting in total receipts of $158.5 million.
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift gained a 37% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on reviews from 113 critics; the average rating is 4.8/10. The site's consensus reads: "Eye-popping driving sequences coupled with a limp story and flat performances make this Drift an adequate follow-up to the previous Fast and Furious installments. Strictly for the racing crowd and fans of the first two films." On Metacritic, which determines a normalized rating out of 100 from mainstream critics, the film received a score of 46 out of 100 based on reviews from 31 critics meaning "mixed or average reviews."
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times praised the film, giving it three out of four stars, saying that director Justin Lin "takes an established franchise and makes it surprisingly fresh and intriguing," adding that Tokyo Drift is "more observant than we expect" and that "the story [is] about something more than fast cars". Michael Sragow of The Baltimore Sun felt that "the opening half-hour may prove to be a disreputable classic of pedal-to-the-metal filmmaking." Kirk Honeycutt of The Hollywood Reporter said that "it's not much of a movie, but a hell of a ride".
Michael Medved gave Tokyo Drift one and a half stars out of four, saying: "There's no discernible plot [...] or emotion or humor." James Berardinelli from ReelViews also gave it one and a half stars out of four, saying: "I expect a racing film to be derivative. That goes with the territory. No one is seeing a Fast and the Furious movie for the plot. When it comes to eye candy, the film is on solid ground—it offers plenty of babes and cars (with the latter being more lovingly photographed than the former). However, it is unacceptable that the movie's action scenes (races and chases) are boring and incoherent. If the movie can't deliver on its most important asset, what's the point?"
Richard Roeper strongly criticized the film, saying, "The whole thing is preposterous. The acting is so awful, some of the worst performances I've seen in a long, long time." Similarly, Peter Travers of Rolling Stone said that Tokyo Drift "suffers from blurred vision, motor drag and a plot that's running on fumes. Look out for a star cameo—it's the only surprise you'll get from this heap." Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle said: "[The main character] has no plan and no direction, just a blind desire to smash up automobiles and steal a mobster's girlfriend. [...] As for the racing scenes, who cares about the finesse move of drifting, compared to going fast? And who wants to watch guys race in a parking lot? For that matter, who wants to watch guys race down a mountain, with lots of turns?"
Rob Cohen, who directed the first film of the series, was very critical of this film, saying: "If you were to just watch Tokyo Drift, you'd say 'I never want to see anything related to Fast & Furious again.'"
The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack was released on June 27, 2006. The album was released by Varèse Sarabande on June 27, 2006. Brian Tyler also partnered with music producers Pharrell Williams and Dr. Dre to help curate the soundtrack. It was followed by the Original Score, which was also composed by Tyler.
All music composed by Brian Tyler.