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Tokyo Vice

I don’t know how I missed Tokyo Vice when it premiered in the spring—but I watched the eight-episode first season this past week and really enjoyed it.

Michael Mann directed the pilot (dazzling, of course) but it’s not really a Michael Mann show. Ansel Elgort stars as Jake Adelstein, an American reporter working at a Japanese newspaper in 1999 as he investigates the yakuza. It’s based on a true story although there’s more than one article out there suggesting that the real Jake Adelstein is full of it.

I’ve never been to Japan but I’ve always enjoyed movies and television shows set there, particularly Lost in Translation (one of my favorite films). Maybe it was the romance of You Only Live Twice, which I saw on ABC as a young boy (the first movie we ever taped off the air). Or how much I got into American adaptations of anime, particularly Robotech. Or how much I like the food?

In any event, I’ve always been fascinated by Japanese culture—which inspired one of the all-time best Mad Men episodes:

Tokyo Vice is loaded with terrific Japanese talent. Ken Watanabe is well-known internationally, but most of the others I did not know.

Show Kasamatsu as Sako, the young yakuza enforcer, is a breakout star. If he spoke English without an accent, he’d be starring in Hollywood movies tomorrow.

For the American cast—Ansel Elgort is great! I hate to play these “what if” games, but had he been the right age, he would have been the perfect casting for Anakin Skywalker in the Star Wars prequels. (I guess I’m not the first person to suggest this.)

I also enjoyed Rachel Keller, whose character is perpetually pissed off without ever becoming grating—one of the hardest things in the world for an actor.

Tokyo Vice covers familiar ground of cops and gangsters—which reminds me, when I first watched The Wire, how strange I found the storytelling in that classic show. Tokyo Vice is the kind of narrative I expected The Wire to be: good guys closing in on the bad guys, with all kinds of borderline-soap relationships between them. But The Wire was true to reality in a way that no show (save the David Simon follow-ups) have been, or possibly ever will be. The cops and drug dealers in that very true-to-life Baltimore resided in separate worlds, with each preoccupied with bureaucratic snafus and pettiness.

Tokyo Vice is far more conventional—but really well mounted and entertaining, and I look forward to the second season.

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