Episode 1 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 2 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 3 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 4 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 5 –| Review Score – 4.5/5
Episode 6 -| Review Score – 4.5/5
Episode 7 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 8 -| Review Score – 4/5
Tokyo Vice’s season one is a steady slow-burn. It remains true to its source material – the memoirs of its supposed protagonist, Jake Adelstein. For me, though, the real protagonist was the city of Tokyo itself and its depths that we are introduced to.
The multifaceted plot involves the storylines of Jake, Samantha, Sato, Hiroto Katagiri, and the two Yakuza clans vying for territory. The core story is equally distributed amongst these characters and their backstories. Michael Mann is among the creators and producers of the show, lending his years of experience in the noir genre to the show.
More than being about any particular incident, ‘Tokyo Vice’ engulfs broader themes about human nature and how the underbelly of a city like Tokyo in the ’90s affects it. At eight episodes long, there is plenty of time for creators to experiment with exposition and use the stage to press more fervently into the morally skewed priorities of its protagonists.
There are now reports of the book being misrepresented in terms of details about Jake’s undercover operations. They have affected the atmosphere to some extent. But the fact remains that ‘Tokyo Vice’ is satisfying as a crime-thriller and psychological study of a city.
Its changing dynamics do not allow you or the characters to settle. They have to adapt to the changes to survive. Although there is not a lot of focus on the physical connotations of the word, the mental aspect of living life with a guilt-free conscience is expressly present.
Another interesting feature of the universe is its egalitarianism. All are equal under the sun in their balance sheet of rights and wrongs. No one has the liberty to take a moral high ground. One way or the other, assigning blame on anyone else but their circumstance becomes a hypocritical exercise.
And there is an acute awareness of this idea. The central perspective remains that of Jake and Hiroto. Their cumulative dealings with the Yakuza in season one, as it turns out, nudge their arcs towards more of a coming-of-age fabric.
Season two will present an opportunity for them to learn from their mistakes and place their trust with more care. Both have burnt hands in dealing with both the clans showing how indifferent even the righteous ones like Ishida can be.
At the intersection of its cultural clash, ‘Tokyo Vice’ does a remarkable job of keeping its biases intact. Adelstein’s observant narration about his experiences is not colorfully translated to make it the Japanese vs. the foreigners.
Instead, there is shown a reluctant yet more open adoption of the ideas from each other’s cultures that make the most sense. The way the show handles this cultural confluence gives it nuance. It makes the job for the audiences more rewarding to take in the impact of these clashes and the new entity that emerges.
Now, the things I did not like. Samantha. I think the show’s creators did not realize how to properly use her in the narrative. She was the only character that was not able to carve out a space of her own in the story. Samantha doesn’t change much and comes across as too unlikable.
Samantha mostly serves as the punching bag and a headache for other characters. And when you look at it, she is not that important for the central story either. Although ‘Tokyo Vice’ is keen to bring out all the covert elements in relationships between different institutions and worlds of Tokyo, it does not shed light on the nexus between the Yakuza and the government.
The omission might be intentional on part of the makers, but it still left the exploration incomplete. It is just for two minutes that we see a high-ranking government official with then Yakuza in the entire season. Can such operations be run without the patronage of the government? They have an important hand in facilitating the schemes but it is completely missing here.
Season one, overall, is an extremely compelling story about corruptness vs. goodness. Although it does not seem like that for a long time, the finale makes the sides clear. It revels in the thrill of discovery and not knowing things. More often than not, it is the case that protagonists are all-knowing snobs and things just fall into their laps.
Here, the scenario is the exact opposite, which is refreshing. The cast is wonderfully coordinated and performs as an incredible ensemble. We cannot wait for season two!
Verdict - 8/10