Since antiquity, the Land of the Rising Sun has maintained an enigmatic presence through its complex socio-cultural distinctiveness, cloistered existence, and artistic accomplishments. After undergoing an economic boom resulting from financial reforms during the 1950s and 1970s, the nation posited itself as the pioneering example of advancement achieved through the perfect union of modernity and tradition. But underneath the resplendent veil of development, glitz, and orderliness, behind the illuminated commercial districts of Japan, lies a hideous, savage, and downright barbaric world of organized crime emboldened by regressive traditions, apathy, and fear. Having had their roots deep inside the nation for centuries, the Yakuza have gotten themselves seemingly legitimized by the authorities as they carry out dastardly, dehumanizing acts completely unchecked.
While the presence and modus operandi of Yakuza have been presented through a number of narratives through the years, crime journalist Jake Adelstein’s memoir Tokyo Vice brings a unique outsider perspective into the mix and doesn’t shy away from probing into some uncharted corners of the criminal empire. Most importantly, the intriguing correlation that Yakuza shared with media and police during the last phase of their prominence in the 1990s is aptly highlighted in Adelstein’s recollection, which has been duly showcased in the first season of HBO Max’s TV series adaptation of the memoir. The first season of Tokyo Vice left a plethora of questions that will be addressed in the upcoming second season, and we would like to discuss the major plot threads by taking a look back at the central plotline.
How Did Jake Get Entangled In Yakuza Conspiracies?
With the beginning of the series, viewers are introduced to the protagonist of the series, Joshua ‘Jake’ Adelstein, during the late 1990s, and being an adaptation of a memoir, the character is the author himself. A charming, quick-witted, perceptive, and diligent youth in his mid-20s, Jake has arrived in Japan, leaving his family behind in Missouri, to join one of the most prestigious newspapers in the country, Meicho Shimbun. Jake has inherited an interest in criminal investigation from his father, who worked as a coroner, although the relationship between the two has become rather estranged over time.
After successfully acing the entrance exam, Jake is recruited as a cub reporter for Meicho in the crime investigation department and soon discovers that things operate differently in this part of the world. Being an outsider, a ‘gaijin’, his involvement in investigations and other ‘internal’ matters is frowned upon by his superiors. Jake and other novice journalists are assigned to work closely with the police department, but their reporting is limited to a rather mechanical, need-to-know basis summation, excluding the investigation faculty out and out. Despite trying his best to fit in, Jake struggles to comprehend the intricacies of decorum and custom related to reporting and investigation and finds it difficult to wrap his head around the fact that crime is overlooked on a deliberate basis to maintain peace between Yakuza clans.
During his initial days as a reporter, Jake stumbles across a gruesome murder and self-immolation suicide, both of which he finds to be linked with a ghost loan-provider company. By investigating further, he learns that the involved companies pressured their customers, the victims, to pay an exorbitant amount of interest, and failing to do so resulted in harassment, threats, and them being forced to commit suicide. The unknown company profited from the deaths as they attached insurance policies as clauses in their loan terms as well, and Jake learns that the entirety of it is controlled by a certain Yakuza clan.
What Do We Know About Jake’s Associates?
In the course of his investigation, Jake befriends a hotshot cop, Jin Miyamoto, in hopes of using his connection to the underworld in his favor. Miyamoto takes Jake to a popular nightclub, Onyx, where Jake meets another American migrant like himself, Samantha Porter, who works as a hostess at the club. The two eventually form a bond, and Samantha introduces Jake to her handler and love interest, a new recruit of the Chihara Kai crime faction of Yakuza, Sato.
Samantha aspires to open her own nightclub and break her fellow hostess friends free from the control of the lecherous owner of Onyx, and she has saved up enough to make that dream a reality. Sato, on the other hand, feels like a fish out of water after getting thrown into the vicious, barbaric lifestyle of the Yakuza, which completely contrasts with his personal happy-go-lucky ideology and composed demeanor. Meanwhile, on one occasion, Jake intercepts an ongoing crime scene resultant from the clash between two rivaling Yakuza clans, Chihara Kai and Tozawa, and is noticed by organized crime department chief police Hiroto Katagiri. Jake’s cooperation earns him a big scoop from Katagiri, which not only stabilizes his situation at the workplace but also brings him to the attention of Chihara Kai leader/Oyabun, Hitoshi Ishida. Outside his work life, Jake forms a strong bond with Katagiri and his family.
Did Katagiri And Jake Manage To Apprehend Tozawa?
Through Sato’s connection, Ishida is able to drag Jake into the Yakuza conflicts and asks him to use his relationship with the police department to find out about a mole in his clan who is supposedly responsible for sharing rumors, which is proving to be detrimental to the clan’s dominance. Jake manages to get the information by asking Katagiri’s help, who duly warns the bright-eyed journalist to not get too ahead of himself and never to take any favors from Ishida or the likes of him. Jake can’t hold back his investigative self and asks Ishida about the Yakuza-lender company conspiracy, and using his tip, he is able to apprehend a culprit banker with the help of his supervisor journalist, Emi Maruyama. Eventually, Tozawa’s connection with the conspiracy becomes apparent as well, but feeling threatened, the banker commits suicide, and Jake can’t help but blame himself for acting out of haste. On the other hand, the mole turns out to be Sato’s ‘elder brother’ (Yakuza terms), Kume, who is apprehended by Ishida and commits suicide in shame. Pondering their life choices, Jake and Sato connect with each other, and the bond between the two gets stronger.
Tozawa orchestrates an assassination attempt on Ishida’s life, which fails thanks to Sato’s timely arrival, and as the Yakuza seeks to maintain peace, Tozawa is disgraced in front of Ishida as a form of apology. Sato rises through the ranks of Chihara Kai and finds himself turning into the same violent lot he used to despise, just like his deceased brother Kume. Samantha reveals her plan to some of her co-worker friends, which attracts unwanted attention, and she finds herself in trouble after her past life starts haunting her. We are also introduced to Polina, Samantha’s closest friend at Onyx, a naïve, kind-hearted girl whose dream of becoming a model has been squashed by the burdens of reality. After a mysterious investigator starts blackmailing Samantha with her past, she decides to share details of her former life with Polina. It is revealed that, hailing from a devout missionary background, Samatha had arrived in Japan to work as a preacher and stole from the missionary organization to hide and settle in the country. The person in her pursuit is sent by her father, and as Samantha tries to bribe him off, he reveals his ulterior motivation of sexual gratification. A troubled Samantha reveals the information to Sato, who kills the investigator after a heated altercation.
After the assassination attempt, Ishida secretly plans to bury Tozawa by exposing his meth-importing business and providing a tip to Jake, which can help the police catch Tozawa red-handed. Jake approaches Katagiri for help, who advises him to stay put for the time being as the police intend to handle the situation systematically by building a stronger case. However, ever-impulsive Jake goes to Miyamoto to seek help instead, and as the duo leads a bust operation, the tip turns out to be useless. As a result, Katagiri becomes extremely disappointed and distrustful of Jake, and his connection with the police department worsens as a result. In reality, Miyamoto turns out to be on Tozawa’s payroll, as he actively protects his shipment from falling into the hands of the authorities and also informs him about Jake being the informant. Jake also has a heated argument and scuffle with Sato regarding the bad tip (assumed by him), and as he gets burdened from all fronts, Jake gradually becomes more hopeless.
Katagiri tricks Miyamoto into believing that the department is building a foolproof case against Tozawa and catches him red-handed in his efforts to steal the evidence. Seeing Miyamoto as repentant, Katagiri offers him a final chance to prove his worth and convinces him to lure Tozawa through another drug bust operation. On the other hand, Polina drowns in heavy debt due to her pathetic, moocher boyfriend, Akira, and gets smuggled by Tozawa’s men into a sex-cruise racket. A concerned Samantha asks Sato’s help to find her, who eventually backs away after realizing that his investigation can instigate conflict with Tozawa once again. A helpless Samantha approaches Jake for help, who brings her to a meth addict/Tozawa propaganda spreader, and the duo learn about the sex-cruise situation, where Tozawa smuggles ‘gaijin’ girls to please his guests. Jake runs the information to his colleagues and supervisor, and after returning to his apartment, he gets attacked by Tozawa’s men, who beat him unconscious. Samantha gets tricked by Akira into losing all her savings she had stashed away to open her nightclub. Out of any viable option, Samantha goes to Ishida for monetary help, and despite Sato’s wish to not get her involved in the underworld mess, it seems like she has already been entangled in it. As Sato leaves Samantha, he is seen to be stabbed multiple times by one of his Chihara Kai comrades, but the motivation for such an action is not clarified in the first season.
Miyamoto’s ruse is discovered by Tozawa, and he is presumably killed off-screen. Tozawa confronts Katagiri to threaten him with the lives of his family and demands complete protection for himself and his lackeys. Meanwhile, Jake receives a tape addressed to him right outside his apartment, and as he plays it, a graphic video shows the final moments of Polina, who was beaten to death in a cruise seemingly by a Yakuza operative for rejecting the sexual advances of a client. Jake brings the evidence directly to Katagiri, who has sent his family away to ensure protection. As the season ends, Jake and Katagiri seemingly start their effort to apprehend Tozawa anew, while viewers wonder about the fate of the characters involved. The beginning of the first season takes place two years after the events of the finale, where we see Jake and Katagiri venturing right into Tozawa’s lair.
What Can Be Expected From Season 2?
The second season of HBO Max’s Tokyo Vice needs to address several questions raised consecutively in the hour-long span of the first season finale. As one of the more interesting characters of the series, Sato’s fate is one of the aspects that will concern viewers, as it remains to be seen whether the near-fatal attack on him was Ishida’s machination or whether it stemmed from petty jealousy. Tozawa had established himself as a formidable force in the first season, and his role in the upcoming season will be something to look forward to as well. There are scattered subplots all over the series, namely Jake’s troubled family condition, Maruyama’s coping with her discriminatory workplace condition, and his socially withdrawn brother, Tozawa’s mistress, whom Jake tries to woo to gather information, all of which will hopefully gain some attention in the next season, while the Yakuza investigation remains at the focal point.