Review: ‘Tokyo Vice’ nails the art of investigative slow-burn


With information, there is always a cost.

The classic vice unit-style crime show has been on the backburner of American television for quite a while now, with 2008’s “The Wire” being the genre’s last bastion. In its absence, shows like “Breaking Bad,” “Snowfall” and “Ozark” have emphasized exciting drug dealing action and minimized methodical detective elements. Thankfully, the HBO original “Tokyo Vice” is a return to form for the slow-burn detective crime subgenre.

Contributed Photo by Warner Media.

“Tokyo Vice” is based on the memoir of crime reporter Jake Adelstein (Ansel Elgort). Defecting from his stained past in Missouri, Adelstein makes it to Tokyo, Japan, and becomes the first non-Japanese staff writer at the Meicho Shimbun newspaper. After a few weeks of being looked down upon as a “gaijin” (foreigner), he earns the staff’s respect for chasing big stories.

One such story has Adelstein investigating a string of grisly, mysterious suicides connected to Yakuza organized crime. This investigation plunges him into a dangerous rabbit hole in the world of Tokyo crime reporting, where better journalists have bigger targets on their backs. While this is the main plotline, in the grand scheme of the show, it only serves as the bread holding the more savory contents in between.

“Tokyo Vice” is a series about relationships, as Adelstein’s journey across Tokyo to solve this mystery submerges him in new environments to collect sources. Each character’s introduction gives both Adelstein and the audience a better understanding of how Tokyo’s organized crime network ticks. When you meet those characters, the show explores their perspectives and opens up a new world.

During a night on the town, Adelstein meets Samantha Porter (Rachel Keller), a lustrous bottle girl for the Onyx nightclub. The two instantly connect over their shared identity as American foreigners. Samantha’s perspective of Tokyo nightlife introduces Sato (Shô Kasamatsu), a fledgling Chihara-Kai Yakuza with a soft side.

Behind the scenes, tensions loom between the Chihara-Kai, led by the overpowering Ishida (Shun Sugata), and a neighboring Yakuza family that impedes on their established order, led by the incredibly menacing Tozawa (Ayumi Tanida). Adelstein’s investigation comes full circle as he meets Hiroto Katagiri (Ken Watanabe), an elusive, yet mysteriously influential vice squad detective.

The worldbuilding is incredibly magnetic, and every viewer will find a favorite character. I love Adelstein, as he’s a dedicated journalist doing anything and everything for that next story before the deadline. Yet again, Sato’s character arc of balancing his soft interior with his jagged Yakuza exterior was a genuine treat to experience.

“Tokyo Vice” is a beautifully crafted web of slowly intertwining connections, making for intense and compelling moments.  Because of this, I truly don’t have any issues to critique. Not to say that the show is perfect, but everything is precisely and expertly executed. Even with the lengthy episodes, I never got bored or pulled out my phone, which is a huge compliment when considering Gen Z’s degrading attention span.

“Tokyo Vice” is a tale of many twists, turns and jaw-dropping moments where even the smallest things have a massive impact. While there’s no news of renewal for a second season, if there’s any show that absolutely must continue, it’s this one.

All eight episodes of “Tokyo Vice” are available to watch on HBO Max.

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Jordan Parker
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