“Tokyo Vice”: American journalist’s account of the underworld is “long and gaping”
CHENNAI: Gangster movies aren’t new and they’ve had an arc beginning with American westerns at godfather fare. HBO Max’s “Tokyo Vice,” created by JT Rogers in an eight-episode series, is gapingly long and offers little novelty or finesse.
Telling the adventures of real-life American journalist Jake Adelstein, who learned Japanese, lived in Tokyo, worked for a major newspaper and wrote about it in his eponymous book, the book takes us into a dark and deadly ride through the dazzling neon-lit subway.
His connections as a detective journalist with the city’s underworld and the police largely inspired the television series. But her best-selling memoir was called into question by The Hollywood Reporter, which reveals that her friends and colleagues at the daily have questioned the accuracy of her reporting.
The director’s depictions unfold like a fictionalized tale of Tokyo’s seedy underbelly where yakuza and bar hostesses have a love-hate relationship with the cops. In an early sequence, we hear one of them telling Adelstein (played by Ansel Elgort) that there are no murders in Japan, followed by several scenes of gore, gore and bodies in what turns out to be a bitter power play between two gangsters – Ishida (Shun Sugata) and Tozawa (Ayumi Tanida).
A subplot about a bar girl, Samantha Porter (Rachel Keller), who ran away from her hometown after stealing money from a convent, is woven into it, though not quite neatly. This is similar to Adelstein’s personal story: he left Missouri, leaving behind his family, including a sick sister. It’s never quite clear what prompted him to land in Tokyo in the first place and try so hard to get into a Japanese-language newspaper with a label like gaijin (foreigner) mocking him.
There’s far too much hype in the episodes as there are plot-driven conveniences. Samantha’s character, on the other hand, is very amazing, especially the way she switches allegiance from Adelstein to a yakuza, Sato (Show Kasamatsu).
However, two relations are well written. Adelstein develops a lasting bond with crime cop Hiroto Katagiri (a compelling Ken Watanabe, a solid pillar of the Japanese film industry), and the reporter also enjoys a great professional camaraderie with his newspaper supervisor, Emi Maruyama (Rinko Kikuchi ), and these convey a certain warmth that the series otherwise lacks.
The effort to get the famous Michael Mann, who is almost 80 years old, to set the tone of the series by asking him to direct the pilot plot, backfires in the remaining seven episodes. The contrast is too stark to miss, and even the few believable performances, including Elgort’s, can’t shake “Tokyo Vice” out of its sordid mess.