Technical director for The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift-sounds like a pretty cool job, no? But ask Toshi Hayama and you may get a different opinion. For the better part of the past two years, the former A'PEXi front man and current D1GP English announcer has been keeping a low profile and a strict eye on Universal Pictures, making sure its portrayal of drifting remains true to the sport even if the script called for a cheesy plot. We spoke with Toshi to gather his thoughts as drifting takes on the silver screen.
Super Street: Before there was anything fast and furious, you were already part of the scene. Tell us how you got your start.
Toshi Hayama: Wow, you want to take it back that far? I got my start by translating instruction manuals for GReddy part-time and at the time during the early '90s] was also a street racer with some of my friends from Dynamic Autosports. One weekend I was up in San Francisco for a race where I met Tomo Mizutani from Nitto Tires, who asked me to help him launch his marketing campaign while I was still in college. In exchange, he helped me create a 60-page business plan to turn over to a company called APEX, which was started by the younger brother of Hasegawa, the "H" in HKS, who was trying to come into the US. I was hired, but shortly after that my boss quit, so I had to fly to Japan to negotiate with the main office to give me a chance to get the ball rolling. I worked there for nine and a half wonderful years and recently left to start my own company called Stage 10 Productions.
SS: Why did you leave the company you started?
TH: With A'PEXi, there were a couple things happening. APEX USA was my staff and to this day I stop in to see how things are doing. APEX Japan is a bigger machine and we were getting ready to go public on the Japanese stock exchange when we experienced a hostile takeover by one of our technology companies. It gets a little tricky here using the right words to explain the situation but basically it stalled the progress of our technological developments. At the same time, however, there was a shift in the company's direction. Instead of being purely performance driven, this corporate influence brought on by other companies on the board of directors had started to overtake Mr. Hasegawa's direction and focused their efforts on other technologies. This didn't affect A'PEXi USA and we were very profitable. When I left, I was 31 and single and I had been wanting to start my own company for a very long time. It was like playing for theLakers but loving basketball and wanting to do something else with it. I won't lie; if A'PEXi did create an unstable image of itself, it was through the workings of things that were beyond our control and I did my best to secure the people that were around me. Sure, anyone could say, "Look, they're hurting," but does that really make a difference? The parts are still being produced; the company's still around and they have other divisions that are very successful.
SS: How did the Fast and the Furious job come about?
TH: Justin Lin, the director, made an indie film called Better Luck Tomorrow and one of the actors, Roger Fan, is a friend of mine from high school. He called me and said that Justin would have a film that I could help him out with. Then D1 Japan contacted me saying that Universal was going to do a movie on drifting. I was their US contact so they said they wanted me to help them. I also received a third call from my old boss at A'PEXi, but I immediately turned down all three offers. I didn't want to be a sellout. The first movie did well for the industry in certain ways and I just didn't like the second. I could see that it was very difficult to get it to what us car guys would like. Roger called me back, so I started studying up on Justin. It was going to be Justin's first studio-backed movie and he was willing to commit his power and life to making sure it was what I wanted. If I didn't like it, I wouldn't have to put my name on it. I thought about it, but turned it down again. It wasn't the pay; it wasn't the concept-I simply did not want to become a sellout. It had a high possibility of becoming whored out, especially with drifting-it's the hottest thing out. They could have f---ed it up, left, and my company would be labeled a sellout for helping out. Could they sustain the next ten years of my livelihood? But then the kicker came, something they said which really made me think. They said, "The forces that be are going to make this movie whether you like it or not. We're really worried with how it's going to turn out and we really want you to be involved. Can you help us?" Maybe it's the mostcommon play in the book, but I thought about it and said, "Well, if they're going to do it, I should help." What's the worse that could happen? I should be there to make sure it's done right. But I never publicized or capitalized on it. I had no idea what I was getting into. One of the most intense things I've ever done.
SS: As a technical adviser, what exactly did you do for Universal?
TH: Contrary to popular belief, I did not have any say in how the cars were portrayed; that's what their art department was responsible for which was also the same staff that was used on the first two films. Justin and I revised the script and worked to fill in the gaps with as much detail as possible. He worked on character development while I worked on the cars. I chose the cars to be used and they asked me to think of dream drift sequences. I trained the actors on the world of drifting, how to act, what not to do, what not to say, Japanese culture, street racing, and I had them watch my DVDs as reference. We trained them with the cars to get them used to driving them the right way. I think I had it easier than the first two technical advisers in that they "oiled the machine," so to speak, so the battles I faced with Universal they were familiar with already. I was the go-to guy at the end to make sure everything went on par. If a car came to me with a paint job I wasn't happy with, I would argue with Justin and the next day it would come back repainted. I think this the best I could have done considering the politics, budget and demographics.
SS: Which pro drifters were used in the making of the film? Was any of their stunt driving digitally enhanced later?
TH: Justin and I both wanted to bring as much authenticity as possible to the movie so we used professional drifters-guys like Rhys Millen, Tanner Foust, Rich Rutherford, Sam Hubinette, Calvin Wan and Alex Pfeiffer; and all real racers to perform realistic stunts; not even Universal's stunt drivers could do it. We extended each drift sequence with little cuts to show that the car was drifting without CG, which was a big enemy of ours and was only used in specific scenes in Japan for which we were denied permits. That scene where you see the Z drifting all the way up the parking garage-that was all real. It was shot twice; once on rails (which didn't come out quite right) and once with Rhys. When Rhys did it, it was shot slower on 35mm film, but we sped it up ever so slightly. That's the magic of Hollywood.
SS: So it would be safe to assume that like the drifters used to perform the stunts, the cars also had to be authentic.
TH: All the cars we built had to drift; I was adamant about that. All the twin-turbo Zs, the Evos were converted to rear-wheel drive by Rhys and his crew and the Mustang with the single turbo RB26 could drift. The way Justin knew I was comfortable with each car wasn't by any lingo I used but just by one simple phrase: That's lame. It was the lame factor, a key word. "Why?" Because it's lame. We decided a lot of stuff based on that sentence. We shipped each car independently and had no support from Nissan.
SS: After seeing the movie, are you happy with the way it came out?
TH: As a car movie, I think that I did the best that I could. Personally, I enjoyed making it more than the end result. I've made lifelong friends and have a new respect for how movies are made. I realize how hard it is to capture a shot that portrays emotion, that gives respect to the cars. Our movie was made by good people from all walks of life that in earnest really tried to learn about our tuning culture. Half the crew came out to D1 to support us and to see what's going on. The movie allowed us to explain drifting and the tuning culture with respect to the cars this time. The cars were really the stars this time.
SS: What was the craziest thing that happened on set?
TH: I don't know if I'm allowed to say but there's a rumor saying that some of action stars loved drifting so much that they stole a car on set and went on the back lot but the car never came back in the morning. But that's just a rumor (laughs).
SS: Interesting to see the Drift King, Keiichi Tsuchiya, playing a cameo (Fisherman #1).
TH: Keiichi has a tendency to join movies, then drop out. That's what happened with Initial D and any other B-flick he's been cast in. But Universal bent over backwards for him, so he said the least he could do was lend his name to the film. He wasn't even supposed to do any of the driving but he does perform in a few sequences. The guy sitting next to him is Mr. Watakura, one of the most acclaimed film directors/producers in Japan. And by the way, did you notice the MC Hammer references?
SS: No, tell us about Hammer!
TH: Before Justin made Better Luck Tomorrow, he was at the Sundance Film Festival without money when he spotted Hammer. A friend of his encouraged him to go up to Hammer for sponsorship, so he just walked up, introduced himself and asked him to fund his movie. Hammer turned around and cut him a check for $10,000, saying "One day when you're big, you can pay me back." Low and behold, Justin finished FATF3, so he paid his debt back and asked Hammer to come into the studio to do some poses. You'll see him everywhere in the background hawking everything from cell phones to laptops. It's Justin's own inside joke.
SS: The product placement in the movie was fairly subtle compared to the first two. Did you have any say in which companies were to be used?
TH: I had to incorporate a lot of Universal's corporate sponsors into the script but I did have a list of companies I wanted to use and to make sure were portrayed correctly. Like NOS-nobody squeezes while they're drifting, so we saved it for the straight-away scenes. Borla-great. But if you keep citing references like they did in part one, it looks dumb, so we counter-balanced it by saying, "Oh, so you can read the catalog." We just tried to work it into the script so that it didn't sound dumb.
SS: How do you think American audiences will react to this film and drifting overall?
TH: Drifting's been around in one form or another. It's going to catapult it, just like the tuner market. Once the influx of inquiries come in from the movie, I want to be sure that it's going to be channeled to the right people and segments. When the first movie came out, tuning became big and kids wanted to build their cars. But the infrastructure of dealers, information, distribution of products, proper installation, tuning and maintenance of cars wasn't there. There's no direction and no collective force for the new kids coming in. Nobody's saying "this is the proper way to build your cars." One thing it won't stop is the kids who will try to drift in parking lots. It is exciting. You can't help it. Maybe the question should be, "What will this movie do for drifting while drifting is in the limelight?" For now it won't go away but once it settles down, it'll be up to the hardcore drifters to decide what happens and shape its direction. Maybe in 20 years we'll look back at this article and ask ourselves, "Are we still into this?" We'll just have to wait and see.