What we're watching: Tokyo Vice

8:24 pm on 27 May 2024
Detective Katagiri (Ken Watanabe) offering a tip to journalist Jake Adelstein (Ansel Elgort).

Detective Katagiri (Ken Watanabe) offering a tip to journalist Jake Adelstein (Ansel Elgort). Photo: Supplied

It was the name Michael Mann that attracted me to Tokyo Vice, a noir thriller based on the 2009 memoir by Jake Adelstein - the first American journalist to work for a major Japanese newspaper.

Mann is one of the greatest movie directors around - responsible for classics like The Last of the Mohicans, Heat and the first Hannibal Lector film, Manhunter - but he hasn't been involved in much television since he produced Miami Vice in the 80s.

To have him actually behind the camera for the pilot episode, as well as executive producer, means that Tokyo Vice has a big head start on the competition.

Ansel Elgort plays Adelstein. He's ambitious and impatient which gets him into trouble in the deeply traditional and hierarchical world of Japan's biggest paper, the Meicho Shimbun.

One of the sources he cultivates is a hard-boiled cop on the Yakuza beat, played with delightful world-weariness by Academy Award-nominee Ken Watanabe.

Adelstein becomes embroiled in the seedy side of Japanese life as he investigates a series of mysterious suicides and discovers links between those cases and a growing battle between Yakuza criminal gangs.

The show is set in 1999 and it does a lovely job of evoking a period when the internet was hardly a thing, people phoned each other because texting on mobile phones was so painful, and family updates from home came on cassette tapes.

Elgort is excellent as a wide-eyed innocent, wandering around the city in a poorly fitting suit, notebook in his nerdy college backpack, chasing down leads, but there is a strong ensemble around him, each one presenting an alternative angle on one of the most fascinating cities on the planet.

Is it worth a watch?

Story: 4/5 (The main villain disappears for a few episodes which reduces the intensity a little but when he returns? Oh boy.)

Production: 4/5 (The visual panache of the first Michael Mann episode isn't maintained but the production's attention to detail - from rarely seen locations to intricate Yakuza tattoo art - is exemplary.)

Bingeability: 4/5 (There are two seasons - of eight and ten episodes respectively - and there's no word on whether there will be a third, so binge with confidence)

If I liked this one, what shall I watch next?

Shōgun (more Japanese intrigue, but much further back in history)

Miami Vice (Mann's original series isn't available online here so check out his stylish 2006 reboot with Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx instead)

Giri/Haji (a reverse fish-out-of-water thriller with a Japanese cop battling Yakuza in London).

Tokyo Vice is streaming now on TVNZ+

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