Friday Video: Hairpin Circus

The Friday Video series has touched upon many great Japanese movies and TV programs celebrating the automobile. But while they made their cars brutish and macho and excellent for ramming criminals into submission, they never made cars sexy. Well, turn down the lights and pour yourself a masu of warm sake before hitting “play”.

1972’s Hairpin Circus was the seminal Japanese motoring film. The age of the personal RWD sports coupe was in full swing and Japan was still blissfully unaware of the oil crisis to come. The giants, especially Toyota, Mazda and Nissan, believed that they had earned their place on the world stage with world-class cars. So why not a world-class film dripping with passion and petrol?

Based on a short story by Hiroyuki Itsuki, it’s the tale of a bitter yet unresolved racing rivalry between two hard-boiled drivers, disaster on the racetrack, young love, and street racing.


No expense was spared. Director Kiyoshi Nishimura (who later worked on Seibu Keisatsu) employed state-of-the-art cinematography techniques, capturing gorgeous images of night-time dashes through Tokyo. Eminent Japanese jazz artist Masaaki Kikuchi was hired to compose a soulful soundtrack that glides down your ear canal as smoothly as reflected streetlights slink over the star Toyota 2000GT’s sensuous fenders. If you harbor any doubt at all about the mood of this film, just look the DVD cover.


As with Steve McQueen’s 1971 Le Mans, a real race features prominently in the plot, in this case the Macau Grand Prix. Filmmakers were allowed to run cars in the actual race to obtain footage. Yoshio Otsubo, a Toyota factory works driver, served as technical director.


Driving scenes featuring a 2000GT, Celica and Mazda Savanna RX-3 blasting over public roads were just as real. Nishimura filmed them on high-speed runs through the Tokyo Metropolitan Expressway system and in Yokohama. There’s not a single pixel of computer-generated bullshit, and sadly, it’s a feat unlikely to be replicated again for a production of this caliber without the strict regulation of traffic.


Many consider Hairpin Circus a masterpiece of Japanese cinema, and the best Japanese car film of all time, so it’s a wonder why it never got more exposure in the West. Best of all, though, it preserves the spirit of a time that will never be repeated.

Now excuse me while I go smoke a cigarette.

Thanks to Toyotageek for the tip!

This post is filed under: mazda, toyota, Video Games and
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13 Responses to Friday Video: Hairpin Circus

  1. banpei says:

    I love the trailer: its simplicity, the jazz used as background music (just like in the 1969 Grand Prix coverage) and the silence between certain parts. Why can’t they make trailers like these anymore?

    I came across this trailer some time ago and I was already wondering about its background story. 🙂
    I never heard about it either and if it was this great, why wasn’t it ever available outside Japan? Is there not even one obscure arthouse label having Hairpin Circus on their list?

    • Ben says:

      Banpei, my guess is that 1.) no one cared enough about Japanese cars, or at least thought they could make money selling the movie, or more likely 2.) even a state-of-the-art Japanese movie at the time did not have production values on par with what Hollywood could churn out. In one of the crash scenes there is the obvious use of a dummy and they don’t show the full carnage of the 2000GT wreck.

      But yeah the trailer is great!

  2. DIASISS says:

    wow! that was cool!

  3. toyotageek says:

    Sweet huh?

    lol 😉

    And the beat goes on.

    Think I’ll take my lady for a spin in the ol’ Celica now…

  4. Bob says:

    Wow, that’s pretty cool.

    Is that a Ford Consul Capri smashing into a wall and bursting into flames? Always wanted one of those.

  5. DIASISS says:

    i just hope they didnt trash that 2000GT …

  6. zulu says:

    ah man that was a great trailer. i love the cool 70s vibe the jazz music give the movie. i love the cars, action, burnt rubber, a girl driving the 2000gt ah just amazingness hahah

  7. Running Bear POO says:

    OMFG! this trailer is soo nice i love the camera angles and the music fits sooo right…these guys are pure artist!

  8. big O says:

    It looks like a really cool movie, but doesnt any of the drivers know how to avoid a freakin wall?!?! every crash was smashing into a wall! I hope they used a dummy car when they wrecked the 2000gt.

  9. BlownArrow says:

    OMG the 2000GT is So Bad Ass!!!!!!!! It’s perfact!

  10. Sue Dalchau says:

    Love the yellow sports car, it’s my dream to own one. Living in Japan currently so can almost relate to this clip, with many retro cars on the road and driven by the very.. cool…!! Will look out for this dvd.

  11. WOW! That is a DVD I have to get my hands on. I really love this blog. You guys have the most awesome information on classic Japanese cars!

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