4.5 out of 5 stars
Loosely based on the memoir of the same name, HBO Max’s “Tokyo Vice” gets the journalistic profession right.
The show made its three-episode premiere on April 7, as a dark noir thriller that follows a foreign journalist’s rise in the Tokyo Police beat, the Yakuza’s extensive network and a powerful detective’s influence on Tokyo’s criminal underworld.
Jake Adelstein (Ansel Elgort) comes onto the scene as a young reporter who is finalizing his attempts to get a job at a popular Japanese newspaper, the Meicho. While Jake is presented as a proper writer and thorough reporter, he soon finds that the strict rules at the Meicho are different from American practices.
However, Jake is quickly thrown into a worthy situation by Detective Katagiri (Ken Watanabe) involving the Yakuza’s loan business that, so far, has resulted in a murder and a graphic suicide.
While navigating this lead, Jake adjusts to his life in Tokyo by socializing with hostess Samantha (Rachel Keller), who is embedded in the Tokyo underground more than the reporter realizes.
Among the specialty TV shows that have made their appearance on the streaming giant HBO Max, “Tokyo Vice” stands alone. With its creator J.T Rogers and executive producer Ken Watanabe at the helm, this series dives deep into Japanese culture by exposing the realities of the country’s nationalist sentiments and old-fashioned patriarchal norms.
As a Jewish man, Jake is known as a gaijin (foreigner) around the Meicho office. One character’s experience that reigned just as powerfully was that of Jake’s boss, Eimi Maruyama. As a woman in a predominantly male profession, this character exposes the harshness of corporate life in Japan, especially for women. She doesn’t get much of a break when she comes home to more patriarchal norms in the form of her Korean husband.
While the characters in this series develop enough intrigue as is, the storyline is just as powerful. In entertainment mediums, journalists are often portrayed as corrupt and odd characters that are nearly sociopathic in their attempts to get a good lead.
However, “Tokyo Vice” presents journalism in a real-world sense; a profession that sometimes doesn’t live up to your expectations and has people of integrity behind every story.
Jake is the perfect embodiment of an honest journalist who is caught off guard by his first impressions of the profession. Rather than being discouraged, the reporter finds ways to adapt to his situation while maintaining his excitement for journalism.
As a series, however, the production quality aligns with neo-noir themes that allows viewers to see Japan in a new light among typical westernized depictions. With directors like Michael Mann, the actual filming of the series is incredibly well done, with action sequences dictated by extreme closeups and tracking shots to illustrate the tense feelings of each character. Combined, these two elements of the series create a thrill of an experience that will keep you coming back for each new episode.
“Tokyo Vice” premiers every Thursday on HBO Max.