Japan shines when it comes to producing genre flicks for profit. Video stores are littered with these small bites of easily digestible cinema and anyone who has ever visited a Tsutaya will tell you, the number of sections within the stores borders the ridiculous. There is even a section for live-action movies featuring animals. Bayshore Route Battle: Skyline Legend is certainly a pure Japanese genre film — it is all about cars and racing. However, in my opinion, it’s more than that. Skyline Legend is also a male melodrama.
The film interestingly begins with an ellipsis: the recent death of Toru’s wife as told through a conversation between old friends. From there Toru embarks on a melodramatic journey backwards in time. First, he hunts down his old car. Then, he finds his old mechanic. Throughout, we are treated to doses of excitement and quality car footage. The film is replete with fantastic looks into Japan’s underground racing culture. In Skyline Legend, Toru’s goal, on the surface, is to beat “The Black Devil,” but Toru is really searching for meaning in his life.
What distinguishes Skyline Legend is that typical plot elements and stylistic choices found in the “car genre” are absent. These conscious choices strongly enhance the film. For example, most entries into the genre feature young, abnormally attractive men racing in their cars in overly exaggerated machismo. Skyline Legend replaces the prototypical protagonist in favor of a middle-aged man yearning for yesteryear.
Skyline Legend also differs from typical car films in its hero’s car, which is quite unsexy by today’s standards. Toru seeks out and fixes up his old Tekkamen, a Nissan Skyline DR30. Seeing the older car compete against the newer car excites us and draws us in as we root for the “underdog.” Skyline Legend doesn’t give us a struggle over a girl nor relationship strife. Toru’s wife’s death is the catalyst for the film but she is hardly mentioned after the opening scene.
By removing the cliches the genre normally depends upon, Skyline Legend engrosses us instead with a solid character and a drama we can invest in.
Skyline Legend is still a full-fledged member of the genre. Car enthusiasts will get their fill of racing footage and tech speak. In fact, the film can serve as an excellent contrast to American car films. However, the melodrama is what takes it further and excites someone like me who doesn’t get stirred by the rev of an engine. Skyline Legend’s story of Toru reclaiming his lost youth as a search for meaning works and kept me engaged.