Art often borrows from other art. It’s a truism that influences most facets of expression and entertainment. There would have been no Beatles were it not for Elvis, no Steven King without Mary Shelley or Bram Stoker, nor the collected works of Arnold Schwarzenegger if rampant steroid abuse and awesome didn’t make such sweet, violent love. Still, a stunning realization came over me. I’m a huge Persona fan, both in girth and level of fandom, and have been playing as much of the recent entry as possible in my (ha ha) free time. I am also a fan of fine cinema, and experienced my first viewing of the superlative melding of Western and Japanese sensibilities found in The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift last weekend. This confluence of consumption revealed the true secret: Persona 5 is secretly based on Tokyo Drift. It works out in my favor. I’ve wanted to write about the game but the review and the Confidant Guide was handled quite well already. I was out of luck until this emerged from the sea. For the purposes of explanation, we’ll keep the game spoilers confined mostly to the first dungeon found in Kamoshida’s delusion. We’ll spoil the hell out of the movie, though.
The Set Up: The plots of both start off with the character being sent to Tokyo due to trouble with the law. In the film, Sean Boswell (played by Lucas Black) is sent to live with his expatriate father against his wishes after being involved in an illegal street race. His opponent, who behaved more aggressively, is going to get off scott free while he takes the brunt of the blame. Sean’s father doesn’t want him, but agrees to take him in if he refrains from racing in the future. The protagonist of Persona 5, whose canonical name is either Akira Kurusu or Jay Arpeegee (depending on who you ask) was also sent to Tokyo after being accused of a crime where the other party was certainly the guilty one. Jay ends up living in a café owned by Sojiro, someone who also doesn’t really want him but agrees to take him in as long as Jay stays on the straight and narrow.
Jay is not voiced, making it easier for the player to project themselves on the character. The protagonist of Drift should never, at any point, have been allowed to speak, especially with that stupid, fake sounding “Texas” accent. It would have been better, instead, that he mime to communicate.
Breaking the Law: Both of the heroes waste no time in engaging in precisely the kinds of activities that would be forbidden by their agreement with the people kind enough to put them up. Sean’s excuse is that he’s really, really $%^&ing stupid. At least Jay stumbled into it on accident and found himself forced into the circumstances, only continuing after he realizes the good that he can do. Sean is brought in by making the horrible mistake of hanging out with Bow Wow, which is universally considered, in both the movie and real life, a bad idea. Bow Wow (I realize this isn’t the character’s name, but it doesn’t really matter) (Editor’s note: The character’s name is Twinkie. How could you say that is not relevant?) is justifiably reviled around the school due to being Bow Wow. Jay ends up falling in with Ryuji, who is also brash and unpopular. He’s still not Bow Wow, which makes all the difference.
For those wondering where Tokyo Drift’s Han and Persona 5’s Morgana fits in, they both take the role of the sensei that shows the protagonist how to succeed at their chosen tasks. Morgana is a cat that educates Jay on the best way to navigate the perils found the palaces of a corrupted person’s heart. Han (played by Sung Kang) isn’t a cat, but appears to be a cuddly animal of some sort and a more appropriate name than Han would have been Snuggles McFluffibunni. His role in the movie is to train Sean in the art of Japanese drift racing and then literally explode, presumably in a shower of goose down as even in death he would provide snuggletastic softness.
What is Love?: While not required, it is common for a love interest to show up during the course of a story. Tokyo Drift and Persona 5 both employ this trope. Now, the movie uses Neela, a non-Japanese character with a bit of a wild streak. Persona 5 allows the player to choose one (or more for the playas) romantic entanglement, but it is heavily implied that Ann, who also appears to not be Japanese, is the canonical woman of Jay’s dreams. The romantic bonding moments take place at the most tender of times, with the movie employing a serene race down the twisting roads of a mountain, amorous music playing in the background. Sean and Neela make a true connection as Neela explains her deep, heartfelt philosophies on life while she is in the process of winning the race, and flinging the two fledgling lovers back and forth in the vehicle. The couple in Persona 5 can bond over nausea at an amusement park. You don’t know how you feel about someone until you are picking pieces of half digested ramen out of your hair…
Dishonor!: Obviously, a story isn’t a story without conflict, and both have it in spades. Persona 5’s first major conflict centers around Kamoshida, a corrupt gym teacher who believes that he is the king of the school. Using his position of power, he pressures Ann in an attempt to convince her to sleep with him. Tokyo Drift’s antagonist is Takashi, the Yakuza tied King of Drift Racing. He uses his position with the Yakuza to pressure Neela to stay with him as his romantic partner. While it seems strange to compare a pervert teacher to a member of an infamously violent organization, I’m certain that most of us can remember that one particular teacher who can fit the bill.
Now, in order to gain the ability to defeat the enemy in the game, Jay and friends must leave a calling card, gaining the attention of the villain. This exposes the treasure of his heart, his true desire. Only by stealing it will the target become obsequious in reality, and confess to his crimes. Sean uses a similar tactic without resorting to metaphysical psychology metaphors. Instead, he walks into the Yakuza’s hang out and challenges his opponent to a race. This move functions the same way as the calling card, and a car is just a card without the D, so it counts dammit.
I Am Vroom and Vroom Art I: The heroes of both pieces of fiction employ a specific tool to defeat the enemy. In the game, these are personas, entities with specific skill sets that bestow the user with power, allowing them to cast spells and effectively attack the shadows that infect the consciousness of Kamoshida. They represent the personality of the user, and all of the party members in the game use one. Jay, however, is unique in that he can adopt various personas to battle the enemies in the palaces. Sean uses numerous cars instead. Most of the other racers just use one specifically tuned vehicle for their races, while Sean goes through quite a few due to a combination of ineptitude and the generosity of cuddly
Snuggles McFluffibunni Han.
Then there is the issue of fusing. In the game, strength can be gained by merging personas together to create a stronger one. This happens via executing the personas and smashing the remains together to create the new one. Tokyo Drift does the same thing, with Sean and friends working together to grab working chunks from different vehicles to create a whole new persona. Um… I mean zippy conveyance. This isn’t even bringing up the fact that both lead characters gain inner strength through the development of bonds with friends and loved ones, which improves the quality of the game’s personas and probably didn’t hurt the craftsmanship of the movie’s ultimate vehicle.
Resolution: Finally, there is the matter of how the conflict is resolved. In the game, Jay and the team manage to steal Kamoshida’s heart in the form of a crown. Sean of the Drift doesn’t steal Takashi’s heart, but it surely has exited his body after he and his car tumble down the side of a mountain, landing on the roof. Both incidents could have been avoided but for the villain’s hubris.
So, through the power of friendship the heroes of both tales emerge from their hardships stronger and more in touch with themselves. Atlus’ game, of course, expands on these concepts through the benefit of being allowed to be much, much longer. However, there can no longer be any denial: Persona 5 is Tokyo Drift with a slightly less cuddly sensei.