Tokyo Vice follows an American reporter who joins a Japanese newspaper and works closely with a veteran detective to uncover the secrets and dark underbelly of Japanese organized crime. The series is streaming on HBO Max.
Episode 1 recap: The Test
We begin with a shot of Jake Adelstein and detective Katagiri putting on safety vests and getting ready for a meeting with the Yakuza. They want Jake to stop whatever story he’s currently working on, to which he replies that he will think over it.
It then cuts to two years ago, as Jake is always seen with a book in his hand studying something. He is taking the qualifying exam for the Meicho Shimbun newspaper which is supposed to be the biggest publication in the world.
He finishes quite early and is satisfied with himself but just as the time is done he realises that there were a few questions on the final page that he missed and this eats him up inside. He still gets a callback and aces the interview to become their first foreign employee.
He’s given a frosty welcome by his superiors before all the recruits are taken on out on one night of fun before they join the daily grind that will probably suck the life out of them. His first assignment is to report on a dead body that was found by the side of a bridge.
He goes to the deceased home and finds many notices from a certain money lending company but when he goes to the listed address there is no trace of an office there. He even makes the mistake of stating that the victim was murdered, and his editor rips him a new one for this error.
He seeks out a detective Miyamoto to learn how things work between reporters and the police in Japan. Miyamoto takes him to a hostess club where he meets an American woman named Samantha who works there. They chat for a bit until he says he can’t afford more time with her.
As they are talking, Miyamoto gets called onto an incident where an old man has doused himself with fuel and is ready to burn himself, an act he goes through with. Jake witnesses this with his own eyes.
He digs deeper into that story and interviews the man’s wife to find that he too was deeply in debt with the Yakuza. The scene shifts to some sort of traditional ceremony within the crime syndicate where certain members are being promoted.
Episode 2 recap: Kishi Kasei
Jake’s latest story assignment is investigating a local panty thief but he’s not able to find any solid leads. After some good advice from his superior, Emi, he goes to detective Miyamoto for some information.
Miyamoto tells him that it’s a made-up story just to up their clearance numbers and Jake takes this information back to the office. At the station, a low-level thug admits to stabbing the victim near the bridge and the officer questioning him accepts the confession.
Detective Katagiri doesn’t believe it to be that easy and protests but gets nowhere. The top brass of the Yakuza is watching a video of one of their territories being vandalised by a rival family. They contemplate how to react to this development and decide to wait for the right moment.
Jake’s article gets approved and that lifts his spirits. Katagiri visits the widow of the bridge victim and does some routine questioning when Jake shows up wanting to talk to her. She sends him off saying that she was asked not to talk to reporters.
Sato goes around collecting the extra protection money for the Yakuza, and one of the stops is the hostess club called Onyx where Samantha works. He returns with the collection but the envelope with Onyx is lighter.
When Sato covers the owner he gets a slap on his face in return. Jake gets publicly ridiculed when his story about the panty thief turns out to be false. Emi tells him that if he doesn’t get it together and produce one decent story, he’s out.
Jake gets a care package from his home back in the states. He calls his mom from a payphone and abruptly ends it when he sees Miyamoto. He tells Miyamoto that the shoddy information he told him got Jake in trouble and that he owes him a story.
Miyamoto tries to explain to him that to gain information, he needs to give out something in return, all while they share dinner. Jake orders more for the table and gets up to go to the washroom but he dashes out leaving Miyamoto with the bill.
He goes to Onyx and has another conversation with Samantha. He even gets to exchange a few words with Sato before leaving. He rushes out to catch his train but misses it and is forced to spend the night at the office.
While he’s there, he’s woken up by a police report of a fight at some club so he rushes to the scene. He gets there and finds some gang members threatening the employees but before one of them commits murder, Katagiri walks in and diffuses the situation.
Jake gets a picture and tries to sneak away but is noticed. Katagiri takes his camera film and tells him not to write a word about what happened in the club and Jake complies.
Episode 3 recap: Read the Air
The leader of the rival Tozawa clan seems to be getting a physical from a doctor. After that, he meets with a squirrelly man who brings up their recent forays into enemy territory and suggests calming down a bit but to no avail.
Jake goes out to Katagiri’s house with some beer and ice cream as a peace offering. He manages to meet with the detective and he picks his brain on the issues in Tokyo. Jake says that all he wants to do is report the truth as is the goal of the news.
At Onyx, Samantha is visited by a new customer who shows off his knowledge of old poets and the two of them share a drink and an intellectual conversation.
Sato and his brother Kume, who is of a higher rank in the Yakuza, visit the club that had the incident. Sato loses his cool with the mouthy owner and Kume tells him to learn how to control his emotions and react accordingly.
Jake gets the opportunity to go along with Katagiri to arrest the men responsible for the club attack. He leaves some credible information leading to a published article with his byline.
The women at Onyx are getting paid and when the owner berates the weakest employee, Samantha stands up for her. She secretly tells her that she wants to open up her club eventually and that will bring her along.
Sato and some others bring a bunch of dresses for the ladies at Onyx, with Sato keeping one aside for Samantha. After work, as they’re leaving, Samantha sees Jake waiting for her.
The two of them go for dinner and they bond over their shared interests and talk about their lives and families back home. At the Yakuza building, one of the other thugs bad mouths Sato. Sato looks over to Kume and then invites the thug for a fight outside with everyone else following to watch.
Sato beats the living pulp out of the thug and has to be pulled back by Kume before he kills him. Jake goes on another visit to Katagiri’s house.
He brings up the old man and the stabbing victim and the loan company that links them together. Katagiri shows him a folder of evidence that could help bring them closer to the truth. As he’s leaving, he is handed that evidence by Katagiri’s daughter.
He takes the folder and later meets up with his colleagues from the paper. The three of them discuss how to go about things when they are interrupted by some people looking for Jake. They threaten violence so Jake goes along with no idea where he’s being taken.
- The city of Tokyo is filled with so much life and acts as a character by itself. It lends so much to the atmosphere of the foreground with its vivid colours and other attributes.
- The constant switch between people speaking English and Japanese is sometimes awkward. Some of the Japanese actors aren’t able to convey their sentiments properly in English despite Jake knowing Japanese fluently.
- The editing feels abrupt at times with the transition between scenes not appearing seamless.
- The dialogues are well written and delivered by the variety of characters that make up the cast.