Review of episodes 1 to 3 of “Tokyo Vice”
Deputy Tokyo is the latest streaming series from HBO Max and is loosely based on the real life exploits of an American journalist in Tokyo. Jake Adelstein (Ansel Elgort) lives in Japan with the dream of becoming a journalist. Fluent in Japanese speaking and writing, Jake manages to become one of the first foreign journalists in one of the most respected newspapers in the world. the Yomiuri Shinbun. Assigned to the crime beat, Jake wishes to pursue true stories. However, he is stopped at every turn by either the publishing system or those responsible for the crimes.
It’s not until Jake stumbles upon a tense confrontation between police and gang members that he finally gets some ground. He meets Hiroto Katagiri (Ken Watanabe), a detective in the Organized Crime Division. Jake receives information from Hiroto, getting the perspective of a man worn down by the status quo. Associated with the disturbing lead Jake is investigating a loan company linked to two deaths, Deputy Tokyo uses its first three episodes to ramp up the tension for what will be a hard-hitting, non-fiction thriller for HBO.
The first episode, titled “The Test”, is directed by Michael Mann with a script written by JT Rogers. Keep in mind that each of these first three episodes has a different screenwriter. Although handled by completely different writers, Deputy Tokyo impressively keeps a consistent tone. Moreover, the style of the show not only carries over to the writing, but also to the production style, performance, and tone.
“The Test” shows Mann doing what he does best. The introduction we get to Jake and his world before entering the world of journalism is captivating. Mann takes Tokyo’s frame and runs with it. What’s more impressive is how he makes someone like Elgort fit in rather than stand out. Plus, Jake’s introduction perfectly encapsulates the character’s hard-working, go-getter attitude.
Jake’s goal of working for an elite newspaper in Tokyo also has a real sense of stakes. The entrance exam is the climax of the episode, with a sudden change in tone in the scene that puts Jake’s future in question.
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Episode 2, titled “Kishi Kaisei”, features the rest of the cast with excellent direction by Josef Kubota Wladyka with a screenplay by Karl Greenfeld. Not only do we see the world of journalism in Tokyo, but we also discover a kind of mirror for Jake. A newcomer to the Yakuza, Sato (Shô Kasamatsu) serves as an entry point into the criminal world. Deputy Tokyo pulls off a good balancing act with this second episode. Jake’s introduction to how hard journalism is in Tokyo is oddly more stressful than the Yakuza class. These aren’t the traditional gang operations you see on TV, but rather the more mundane events that criminals go through.
A refreshing new approach to journalism and criminal events in the media, Deputy Tokyo is unexpectedly exciting. Rinko Kikuchi plays Eimi Maruyama, a sort of amalgamation of a character based on various real-life supervisors and editors from Jake’s time. in Tokyo. Kikuchi shines quietly, guiding Jake where he needs to go while not being afraid to show him how the world works.
Jake’s companions in the diary, “Trendy” (Takaki Uda) and “Tin Tin” (Kosuke Tanaka) bring great levity to the show. They also highlight a worker’s struggle in Japan in more serious times as well. 90s Tokyo has a presence that really impacts every character in the series. However, Deputy Tokyo sometimes struggles to expose more culture. Instead, most of the time, there’s a certain “whiteness” to Jake’s time at work and on the streets of Tokyo that sometimes feels dishonest.
Character and culture balance can be an issue with Deputy Tokyo. Look no further than Rachel Keller’s character, Samantha, an American who works as a hostess for a club. His story, while intriguing, is nowhere near as engrossing as Kikuchi’s character. While we only get a glimpse of Eimi’s (Kikuchi) home life and the varying power relationships there, we instead come back to Samantha’s story.
The third episode of Deputy Tokyo, titled “Read The Air”, is also directed by Wladyka with a screenplay by Arthur Phillips. After settling into Jake’s new world of journalism, we get some traction in the overall story. At this point, Jake is desperate for a story with his career at stake. Hanging out at clubs, buying expensive dinners for officers, and chasing down leads of underwear thieves isn’t enough.
“Read The Air” is a great episode not only for Jake but for our other chef Sato. Sato’s violent tendencies begin to show in this episode. In particular, his beating of another gang member is shocking and intense, showing what this character is truly capable of while getting him in trouble with superiors. Also, Jake finds himself in a similar situation when he receives evidence from Hiroto (Watanabe) that propels his investigation into a loan company.
Everything finally seems to be falling into place for Jake. From a connection to the force with a published story that actually sticks, Jake finally feels comfortable. However, the sudden appearance of the Yakuza during a party with friends ends the episode in uncertainty.
Globally, Tokyo Vice the first three episodes have incredible production value, solid direction, and an intriguing story. However, where Vice falters is the balance of characters and enforced whiteness in Tokyo culture. Still, these are three solid episodes that help make Deputy Tokyo stand out from the rest of Max’s catalog. – Ernesto Valenzuela
Rating – 8/10
Tokyo Vice airs new episodes Thursdays on HBO Max