The vibrant crime thriller from HBO Max

Ansel Elgort in Tokyo Vice

Ansel Elgort Tokyo Vice
photo: James Lisle/HBO Max

Michael Mann spent his career in Vice. Almost 40 years ago, the famous director explored the relationship between undercover cops and overpowered gangsters MiamiVice. In the eyes, he updated this TV phenomenon for the big screen. And today he’s helping the shepherd of HBO Max Tokyo Vice through a neon-soaked yakuza-run underground.

Loosely adapted from Jake Adelstein’s memoirs, ‌Tokyo Vice: An American reporter on the police crackdown in Japanthe crime thriller follows the early days of Adelstein (Ansel Elgort) to the police beat of Japan’s largest fictional newspaper, Meicho Shimbun. He is the newspaper’s only gaijin (“foreigner” in Japanese) reporter, and boy, let him know. For example, in his interview for the gig, the hiring manager asks how Jake, a Jew, feels about employees believing that Jews control the economy.

Tokyo Vice opens in media res. Two years into Adelstein’s career, he and detective Hiroto Katagiri (Ken Watanabe) meet with leaders of the Tozawa-led yakuza. Man plays the hits here, evokes MiamiVice‘s Sonny Crocket (Colin Farrell in the film) with Elgort’s hair slicked back and boxy blazer. We get a taste of a deliciously spiced Jake before being abruptly sent back to 1999, when his hair was unkempt and the future uncertain.

Mann, who directed and is executive producing the pilot episode, wastes no time ramping up the suspense. In an early scene, a shot begins on the floor, then rises as Katagiri enters the room and sits squarely on his shoulder, then approaches Watanabe. The frame is so tight you can almost see the sweat in Watanabe’s pores. Saunder Jurriaans and Danny Bensi’s music also has a driving energy as we step away from everyday chaos Meicho to the futuristic luxury of the Onyx Hostess Club.

However, the show fits Mann’s work beyond the title. As a classic male protagonist, Jake is an overzealous workaholic, “action is the juice” type. Like the leads of black hat, heatand another journalistic thriller, The InsiderJake infiltrates networks by internalizing rules and procedures.

Understandably, viewers will raise eyebrows at a show about Japan told from the perspective of a white star, a white pilot director and a white creator (JT Rogers). levels of Island of Dogs Regardless, the on-location series feels like a tour of Tokyo, but rarely delves into cultural tourism. Instead, the inner workings of the characters are given space to come to life. Katagiri, for example, exudes love and kindness with his two children. Hearts should melt to see him sing “Kaeru No Uta” or “Frog’s Song” to them.

Episode two directed by Josef Kubota Wladyk shows what a difficult time it is at the police station. An uneasy truce between rival yakuza gangs, the Chikara and the Tozawa, brings war to Katagiri’s doorstep. Jake endears himself to Katagiri and Sato (Shô Kasamatsu), a Backstreet Boy-loving Chikara captain, and finds himself on a path into the yakuza underground. (We should point out: Of the show’s grimacing yakuza soldiers, Sato is the most compelling. His cool drips off the screen, but his insecurities bubble up just below the surface.)

at Meicho, Jake works under veteran editor Eimi (Rinko Kukuchi). Seeing Jake’s persistence, she assists his investigation into a spike in suicides by people in debt to a yakuza-linked loan shark operation. Director Hikari makes the best use of Kukuchi in the standout, All the President’s men-inspired fourth episode that expertly balances Mann’s process-oriented obsession with the actor’s surprising performance.

Ansel Elgort and Hideaki Ito in Tokyo Vice

Ansel Elgort and Hideaki Itō in Tokyo Vice
photo: Eros Hoagland/HBO Max

Speaking Japanese and English, Elgort lives up to the charisma he should bring baby driver and Westside Story, beaming with excitement as he makes his way through Tokyo’s underworld. But his best moments are when he sits across the table from his colleagues and exchanges horror stories over beer, cigarettes and sushi. (It’s admittedly difficult to see Elgort’s charms through them cloud of controversy following his work.)

Jake’s personal life is the weakest element of the series. JT Rogers teases the journalist’s Missouri roots as he avoids calls from his mother and listens to his sister’s recorded messages. We need Jake’s motivation for working in Japan, but these character breadcrumbs feel like prestige series commitments, not answers. Rogers leads us to a big revealbut Jake’s story backfires.

at his best, Tokyo Vice sweeps the viewer’s arm through the bars, alleyways, offices, and homes of the city’s many classes and communities, offering a well-rounded picture of a place that leaves room for the thrill of exploration and discovery. That’s how good journalism should be, right? Bring the world to your doorstep? Tokyo Vice does so with an elegant, energizing style that leaves us wanting more.

https://www.avclub.com/tokyo-vice-review-hbo-max-ansel-elgort-michael-mann-tv-1848738430 The vibrant crime thriller from HBO Max

Andrew Schnitker

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