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Tokyo Vice: Season 1 Review | Quinn Satterlund

This article contains spoilers for Tokyo Vice

In this age of goldfish-like attention spans, It’s hard for me to to really sit down and enjoy a new TV show, front to back. This, however, is not the case for HBO-Max’s gritty new crime thriller, Tokyo Vice.

Set in Y2K Tokyo, Japan, the story is based on the 2009 memoir of the same name written by Jake Adelstein. The show follows American reporter, Jake Adelstein (played by Ansel Elgort, fresh off of a lead performance in West Side Story), and his struggles working as the first non-Japanese reporter at the fictional “Meicho Shimbun”.

After forging a connection with a veteran detective on the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department’s vice squad, Adelstein delves into the seedy underworld of Tokyo, filled with gambling, narcotics, protrusion, and most importantly, Yakuza.

As well as the main plot line of Jake Adelstein, Tokyo Vice also weaves together three separate, but intertwined stories: Hiroto Katagiri (played by Academy Award nominated Ken Wantanabe), as the father-figure detective that takes Adelstein under his wing, Sato, a Yakuza member that slowly becomes friends with Adelstein, and Samantha Porter, a love interest of both Adelstein and Sato, who works at a club that these two frequent.

Tokyo Vice is incredibly rich and robust, as each episode is damn near like a movie (it makes sense–Tokyo Vice was originally set to be a movie, but I’m glad they went with the television format instead), with shots you would expect straight out of a $200-million budget blockbuster. Despite being a slow burn, in almost every hour-long episode there are numerous moments of edge-of-your-seat, glued-to-the-screen action. The fight scenes are choreographed impeccably, with the camera movement masterfully cradling the line between dizzying and intense. Sound design and music choice, for the most part, is pretty good, with the exceptions of some overdubbing in the first episode. However, after the pilot, overdubbing is resigned to a few small scenes, keeping you engrossed in the tale of Tokyo Vice.

My favorite part of the show is a tie between Adelstein’s storyline as a reporter and the Yakuza’s. We see more of Adelstein (it is based on his book, after all), but every moment with the Yakuza is so interesting and complex. Shun Sugata, who plays the “honorable” Yakuza crime boss, Ishida, is completely resistant to change, and his territory is encroached by the new, stronger Tozawa clan. Sugata does a tremendous job of playing the intimidating, violent yet calculating godfather of his family. I remember one scene in which a new recruit, who accidently prepared Ishida’s scallions wrong, tries to slice off his own finger as payment for his mistake. Everyone in the clan knows that this is too far–it was just a blunder making soup, after all, and beg him not to. After trying to reason with him does not work, a member finds Ishida and brings him down to solve the problem. Ishida stares blankly at the new recruit, who is struggling to cut off his pinky finger. The new recruit’s eyes are wide and red, as adrenaline courses through his body. He viciously swings at anyone who comes near, as he tries to saw through finger. Finally, Ishida coldy tells the recruit (I’m paraphrasing) “If you want to chop off your finger, next time cut above the knuckle bone, you idiot,” before returning back to his office. This gives the members of the clan time to drag the knife away from the recruit, and the crying enlistee is sent back home, a failure.

As much as I loved this show, there definitely are a couple misses, and this show starts out very high, then plateaus after episode five, only to sink for the last three. Still, its a great show, and even it’s low points are still pretty good, so I recommend you check this out. A-

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