For Japanophiles and fans of the crime genre, Max’s Tokyo Vice has been a godsend. The small-screen adaptation of Jake Adelstein’s bestselling 2009 memoir which premiered its debut season in 2022 has been nothing short of a revelation. Set in Japan’s capital in 1999, Tokyo Vice was a huge hit and fans will be delighted to know that season 2 is scheduled to begin on February 8. 

The Story of Tokyo Vice

Adelstein, one of the first foreign reporters for a Japanese newspaper, has made a career from writing about his experiences of dealing with the yakuza crime syndicate and all its murky underworld dealings over the years. The TV adaptation, which has a very healthy 85% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, follows the young and somewhat naive Adelstein (played by Ansel Elgort) as he finds his bearings in the complicated and rules-heavy world of Japanese journalism while simultaneously ingratiating himself within the yakuza and its own archaic set of rules and codes of conduct. He finds a mentor in the shape of detective Hiroto Katagiri, played with absolute gravitas by Ken Watanabe, and soon finds himself up to his guts in killings and other grisly crimes. 

Although Elgort and Watanabe turn in great performances, it is newcomer Sho Kasamatsu who steals the show with a stunning and brooding performance of a young yakuza member conflicted between morality and duty. Kasamatusu is absolutely mesmerizing, reminiscent of a young Brando, with Kaiya Shunyata writing on, “It is nearly impossible to look away when he’s present, his presence dominating the scope of the camera’s lens until he’s the only thing visible on screen. His eyes and body carry a weight to them which mirrors an acting legend like Watanabe’s, a face so incredibly bare that you can’t help but feel like you’re watching something special. It’s almost impossible not to wish that he was the series’ main character, and although he isn’t, his screentime in season 2 has thankfully increased.”

Season 1 ended with the murder of a foreign hostess and infighting and suspicion within the yakuza with Adelstein deeply involved and trying to navigate himself throughout the intricacies of both the journalism and yakuza worlds. Beautifully filmed, it accurately reflected the aesthetics of the late 1990s in Tokyo with its green public telephones, flip phones and fax machines. It’s a subtle visual porthole into Heisei era Japan and although the narrative can be slow burning and occasionally frustrating, it’s worth persevering as it can erupt, brood and fizz like pretty much nothing else on television.  

Tokyo Vice Season 2 is available on Max from February 8

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