It may be just the month of May, but I believe that I have seen THE best TV series 2022 has to offer in the form of Tokyo Vice. Based on the memoir by Jake Adelstein of the same name, the story recounts his years living in Japan working as the first non-Japanese reporter for one of Japan’s most prestigious newspaper, the Yomiuri Shinbun. Jake Adelstein relates his account of his experience when covering stories of the Japanese gangster underworld of the Yakuza.
What differentiate Tokyo Vice from being another run of the mill gangster movie is how it manages to effortlessly present a crime story within a fascinating tapestry of the dangerous modus operandi of the underworld, with the colourful cultural uniqueness of Japan. The bulk of the dialogue is in Japanese which lends an air of authenticity to the story immediately. The city of Tokyo is captured beautifully with different moods that matches the plot. It is a subtle supporting act that may go unnoticed but in actual fact lends a big part in giving each scene the right atmosphere. When we see get Jake chased those the streets, we are surrounded by the colourful signs and shops that line the streets, At the yakuza world, the atmosphere in contrast, changes to become more subdued. The bars and nightclubs come alive with the pulsating probing lights and glitter that once again transport us to another world.
Four time Academy Award nominee Michael Mann who has given us similarly themed movies like Heat, Collateral, The Insider and Miami Vice is one of the major influencer here being as one of its Executive Producer and even directed the opening episode. The performances from the cast of mainly Japanese actors were simply top notched. Ansel Elgort arguably gives us his career best as Jake, displaying a vulnerability yet stubbornness when faced with the multiple challenges. His command of the Japanese language was also very impressive and convincing. Veteran Japanese actor Ken Watanabe was superb as the detective Katagiri who ends up a reluctant mentor to our young American. He reminded me of how Chow Yun Fatt used to be in all those Wong Kar Wai movies, acting with his eyes, and body language. Japanese actor Sho Kasamatsu was also outstanding as the young Yakuza henchman as he portrays the character’s change from an inexperienced novice to a hardcore killer. Finally accolades goes to the actresses as well, particularly Rachel Keller as Sam, the American bar girl / singer and Rinko Kikuchi as the practical but good hearted newspaper boss to Jake, Eimi. The performances were all powerful and supported by a script that transcend many other similarly themed movies, despite the language barrier.
The story is riveting with insightful details of how the yakuza operates together with the local police and newspapers in keeping things under the limelight. How much of this actually happened is of course something that only the real Jake Adelstein will know. What is certain is his ability in story telling and how will that translates into a TV series.
The only disappointment in Tokyo Vice is how the series chose to end. Instead of racing to a satisfying conclusion, the final episode had almost all the characters end up in a worst situation than they were in. This is like having not just one cliff-hanger but instead multiple cliff-hangers! At the end, we are no where near where our main characters had aspired to be as they find themselves in deeper trouble with uncertain fates than ever. Worst still, is the fact that as of the time of writing this review, there still has not been any formal announcement by the producers for a renewal to do a follow up Season Two. Based on generally positive ratings this should be a no brainer, but it is disturbing to note that the producers have yet to confirm. Meanwhile the wait to see what happens next is not something to look forward to, so I am starting to read the novel by Jake Adelstein instead to help satisfy the hunger in the interim.