Even though its villains are Japanese, Taxi 2 is burning rubber at the Japanese box office. Opening on August 12, it recorded 110,000 admissions on 165 screens its first weekend, for a gross of $1,587,156 (Y173m), enough for third place in the rankings after MI:2 and The Perfect Storm.

To rev the box office engines, distributors Nippon Herald and JVC sponsored the building of a "drive-in theatre" at the base of city landmark Tokyo Tower and filled it with nearly 100 exotic cars, including the Peugot 406 featured in the film's title role and Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VI that it pursues. Also on hand were two of the film's stars, Frederic Diefenthal and Emma Sjoberg, as well as thousands of Japanese car buffs. Why Tokyo Tower' "It is built to look like the Eiffel Tower, which is featured prominently in the film," said a Herald publicist.

The taxi driver in both instalments, Sammy Naceri, also paid a five-day visit to Japan in early July to publicise the film. But no human could overshadow the sequel's four-wheeled stars in the eyes of car-mad Japanese fans. As if to underline that fact, Mitsubishi is sponsoring a draw with a first prize of the chance, not to meet producer Luc Besson, but to squeal away behind the wheel of a Lancer Evolution.