“Outsiders: Japan” Review

I’m going to be straight to the point with this one: I’ve never bought a drifting DVD before. Come to think of it, I’ve never even bought a motorsport DVD before, with all of the automotive-related items in my collection being efforts from Top Gear and Jeremy Clarkson. For the most part I’ve made do with low-quality videos on YouTube, the vast majority of which have little or no English subtitles. Of course, there are also the excellent Best Motoring and Hot Version videos uploaded by GT Channel that have both English subtitles and narration, but I’ve watched these so many times now that I was desperate for something new.

Outsiders: HD Drift Documentary Trailer from Al Clark on Vimeo.

When I first heard that a few members of the Driftworks team were heading over to Japan to film a drifting DVD, I wasn’t massively excited. Sure, I was interested to see what the final product would be like, but having watched various offerings from the likes of JDM Insider before I will be honest and say that I wasn’t expecting anything more than a few English guys pointing at some automotive pornography and occasionally watching some drifters tear it up on a local track. Many of us longed to see more than this, especially as the main appeal of Japan for the majority of the Western world is how their culture differs to ours; wouldn’t it be nice if a drifting DVD could delve deeper and look at what drives many Japanese men and women to disappear off into the mountains and hurl their pride and joys around the tight and twisty touges? Thankfully, my initial presumptions were wrong and my wish was fulfilled.

Throughout the film the cultural differences between Japan and the Western world are constantly referred to, with both the beginning and end featuring renowned UK drifter Mitto Steele delivering his opinion on the subject. Personally speaking, one of my favourite comparisons made by Mitto was that of the elderly radio controlled drivers and how the attitude of the general public is different between Japan and the UK. The respect that the Japanese have for one’s hobby is clearly a lot greater than it is over here, so long as the occupant is having fun. It really is an attitude I’d love to see displayed by more people here in my home country.

Another important topic raised throughout the film is that of the Japanese peoples’ need to free themselves somewhat from the daily grind. Here in the UK I think it’s fair to say that such needs are normally fulfilled by a trip to the pub, but in Japan it’s as much of a way as expressing one’s individualism as well as breaking the regimented cycle of daily life.

Moving away from the cultural comparisons, the film also delves into the more technical side of the drifting world. Visits are made to the workshops of Bee*R, Kids Heart, Mind Control and 326 Power and every effort is made to indulge the viewer in more than just a few shots of some fancy cars parked outside. The history of the companies, discussions with their various owners and an overview of their attitude to the tuning world makes these chapters very interesting to watch, although my personal favourite is the trip to the Bee*R factory. Normally it would be considered adequate to film a few shots of a car’s exterior, interior and maybe a glance at the engine bay, but in this case Phil Morrison takes the time to go underneath Bee*R’s ex-D1GP BNR324 and explain (in detail) all of the major chassis and suspension modifications. I will be honest and say I found this pretty fascinating!

Of course, the main reason a lot of people wanted to see the film was to see some badass drifting filmed in high definition, and on that level it definitely doesn’t disappoint. While there wasn’t as much drifting as I’d first expected there to be, the film is definitely better as a result of it. Quality not quantity is certainly the name of the game as three of the most popular and savage drift circuits in the country were visited, explained and experienced. These were Bihoku Highlands, Suzuka Twin and Meihan Sports Land, all tracks that will no doubt be familiar with anyone who has ever spent a long night on YouTube searching for the best Japanese drifting videos. Bihoku and Meihan are well known for claiming the lives of a number of cars in the past due to their dangerous layouts and quirks, the most difficult of which were explained in detail by the aforementioned Mitto Steele (similar to a Martin Brundle track walk, only instead of wide, smooth Formula 1 tracks the key points are clipping points, off-camber tarmac and what not to hit!).

Of course, a healthy dose of street drifting is also included. Japanese street drifting is already impressive enough when filmed on poor quality cameras/mobile phones, so you can only imagine how fantastic it looks when filmed with a pair of camera cranes and a number of on-board cameras. I won’t go into too much detail about this section as it is something you’ll definitely need to see for yourself.

It was also great to see Driftworks’ main men Phil Morrison and James Robinson experiencing Bihoku and Meihan for themselves using a pair of borrowed S-bodies (an S14a and a PS13, respectively). Considering Phil is a former British Drift Championship champion it was intriguing to see how he adapted to the tracks and how his skills compared to those of the local Japanese drivers. It made for a very interesting watch and he showed that even the professionals get it wrong sometimes as he narrowly missed a trip into the Bihoku tyre wall!

I could go on for ages about the various scenes in the film but I think I’d best stop there as I don’t want to ruin it for anyone – I’ve already gone into far too much detail! To sum it up, Outsiders: Japan is more than just an hour and a half of drifting sequenced together and labelled as a film. While it may feature a few cultural and social differences that are commonly recycled in every documentary/film/TV programme about Japan (the high-tech toilets, for example, are nothing new to most) it does successfully explore the differences that are rarely touched on by the mainstream media; the Japanese peoples’ attitudes to hobbies, for example, and their need to perform to the best of their abilities at whatever task it is they are presented with.

If you couldn’t care less about the weird and wonderful country that is Japan and just want to see lots of cars doing some skids, I suggest you stick to those low-resolution videos on YouTube. If, however you are actually interested in learning a bit more about the country that invented the sport of drifting then this is definitely a film you need to see. Japan is quite probably the most influential country in the world when it comes to modified cars, and as a modified car fan it would stupid of you to miss out.

You can check out the second Outsiders trailer below. If you are interested in watching Outsiders: Japan for yourself, you can buy it from the Driftworks shop here.

Outsiders: Japan – Trailer 2 (Out Now) from Al Clark on Vimeo.

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