Tokyo Vice Season Two | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Friday, March 1st, 2024  

Tokyo Vice (Season Two)

MAX

Feb 08, 2024 Photography by James Lisle/Max Web Exclusive
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A lit cigarette quivers in Hiroto Katagiri’s lips, as he anxiously peers at a clue etched in a matchbook during one of the best new scenes on Tokyo Vice. The jaded but dogged detective (played by Academy Award nominee Ken Watanabe) unholsters a stubby six shooter revolver–one that wouldn’t look out of place in a classic noir thriller–tracking the clue down to Jin Miyamoto’s corpse. Played with superb sleaze by Hideaki Ito, Miyamoto was a crooked cop who Katagiri recently enlisted to be a mole in Tokyo’s notorious yakuza mafia. Clearly, those thugs want to send the police a message. These are masterfully shot and acted scenes, with equally on-point props and set design, in the first two episodes of Tokyo Vice’s second season.

This season of the uneven but unique and compelling Far East crime saga starts off stronger than the series’ first season. Based on the memoir of the same name by American journalist Jake Adelstein, Tokyo Vice’s earliest episodes depicted the fluently bilingual, but not quite culturally adept rookie scaling the ranks at Meicho Shimbun, Japan’s largest newspaper, in the ‘90s. It is indeed a tired trope to give audience’s a Western perspective on an Eastern culture, but this was made all the worse by star Ansel Elgort’s stiff performance and the even more brittle writing of his crime reporter character. The Japanese actors and their characters were far more interesting, from Watanabe’s gumshoe Katagiri, to Adelstein’s no-nonsense editor Emi Maruyama (Rinko Kikuchi; also an Oscar nominee for Babel), or the once fierce but now ailing yakuza boss Shinzo Tozawa (Ayumi Tanida), and especially the burgeoning but ambivalent thug Sato (Shô Kasamatsu).

Rather than bog down the narrative every time they appear on screen, Elgort (Baby Driver, West Side Story) and fellow expat Samantha Porter (Rachel Keller; Legion, Fargo) now give far more lived-in performances of richly written material. Porter spent Season One working in one of Tokyo’s hostess clubs, where clients pay to sip overpriced drinks and have the staff pretend to enjoy chatting and flirting with them. This season, she runs a club of her own, despite still grieving fellow hostess Polina, whose murder was caught on tape, a copy of which was mysteriously delivered to Adelstein in the Season One finale. Adelstein finally appears competent as a reporter. Rather than enduring lectures from Maruyama (though her insistence he “stop using so many adjectives” in Season One is still hilarious), Adelstein now impresses her with his reporting and photography. There is one early scene in particular where Adelstein infiltrates a biker gang, only to have them pressure him to be their accomplice. It boasts more thrills and suspense than his entire Season One arc.

Subplots aside, Adelstein is mainly occupied with solving Polina’s murder. When he succeeds in identifying the man who attacks her on the videotape, he and police force ally Katagiri begin to realize that Tokyo’s moral rot extends beyond the yakuza and corrupt cops to the upper echelons of power. And when he and Maruyama attempt to interview the suspect, his bullheaded expat tendency to disobey Japanese hierarchies once again lands him in trouble. But this time, Elgort is convincingly nuanced, instead of looking like a petulant child we saw last season.

If the once weaker characters and cast members continue to show such promise, and if the main arc is supplemented with more case-of-the-week subplots like the riveting biker gang reportage, Tokyo Vice will become as well-rounded and formidable as the Japanese actors whose talent kept the last season afloat. (www.max.com/shows/tokyo-vice/)

Author rating: 7.5/10

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