MOST OF THE TIME WHAT SHOWRUNNERS WILL DO ON

a series is assign one particular episode to be more intense than the others; a high-stakes episode which will most likely be near the end of the season, or a midpoint episode which will create a peak to the overall arc. It’s difficult to make a series genuinely intense and full of suspense. And it’s essentially impossible to create tension and then retain it throughout the entirety of a season. However, there’s been one in particular that’s managed to retain that aura of suspense throughout its entire eight-episode run.

Tokyo Vice is a series crafted with such vision, but it doesn’t let go of the viewers’ attention once over the course of its first season. Gripping and engaging from beginning to end, the show follows a genuinely visceral tale of high-stakes criminal activity within Japan’s biggest city and the drug scene that has a hold on it. Showcasing an outsider’s perspective of Tokyo, it dives deep into the darkest underbellies of the nightlife and criminal activities that lurk within. There aren’t many series out there that manage to keep you on the edge of your seat, but this intoxicating and engaging endeavor will enthrall you in a rollercoaster ride of emotions and fear.

TOKYO VICE - SYNOPSIS

Based on a true story, the series centers on Jake Adelstein, the real- life writer of his own memoir Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan, which became the basis for the HBO Max series and is one of the most harrowing stories of journalist activity to date.

The series itself follows Jake Adelstein (Ansel Elgort), an American journalist who heeds his focus on Japan’s most exuberant city. Adelstein’s story is a neo-noir crime thriller that dives headfirst into the ‘90s syndicate based crime that had a sprawling control over Tokyo.

The writer manages to find a contact in the Tokyo police force, and they start working together in order to bring to light some of the most depraved and chaotic drug-related crimes that were happening at the time. The story takes a serious toll on the author’s mental state as he becomes increasingly obsessed over the statistics and the information that he finds.

Tokyo Vice dives deep into the mindset of the author, showcasing everything from his point of view as well as that of some members of the police squad. The story goes over his life, getting his education from Sophia University in Japan, up until landing the job as the first non- Japanese reporter at one of Japan’s most prolific institutions, the Yomiuri Shinbun newspaper. His involvement in the underworld there ends up becoming one of the largest crime stories in Tokyo’s history.

THE STORY

Following a non-linear narrative, the plot follows Jake as he’s thrown into two different cases, which at first seem unrelated until a much darker path becomes illuminated. Taking notes from Chinatown, the interconnectivity is gradually revealed in a way that remains both haunting and mysterious, influencing the main character to actively go out and search for clues and the hidden links between them. Brief moments of respite from the intensity were carefully put in place, but without ever disrupting the overall pace, especially through the thrilling first half of the season. It’s here where we’re able to analyze the characters’ psyches and focus on Jake’s meticulous process to solving these crimes.
Tokyo Vice manages to create an aura of suspense through its developing of this world. Legendary filmmaker Michael Mann serves as showrunner and pilot director here, imbuing the series with delicate noir influences and taking time to develop the characters and their world as the story builds up to its heated moments. Likewise, the writing team provides some of the best TV dialogue in recent vintage.

None of this would have mattered if they didn’t manage to stick the landing. The ending, the climax, and overall final episode needed to be perfect in order to hit the home run and Tokyo Vice delivers on all three. We’re given a conclusion that’s dramatic, yet highly realistic. The finale is not only crucial to the show’s success, but the highlight of the first season, resulting in one of the most bombastic pieces of drama that you will see this year.

CHARACTERS

The characters are extremely dynamic, especially the main duo of Jake and his detective/mentor Hiroto Katagiri (Ken Watanabe). The series doesn’t just focus on these two though, as it dives into characters that you wouldn’t normally expect, such as crime bosses and other members of the police squad, showcasing their perspectives as well. Unlike the book, it deviates from the memoir structure inherently built into it.

Conveying a realism as it pertains to journalism and putting into question the obfuscation of right and wrong, the series constantly forces its characters to walk that thin line between illegal activity and rule of law, their morality coming into question over and over again. And where the writing gives the show its foundation, it’s the actors who elevate these characters even more.

Ansel Elgort is absolutely fantastic here, giving one of the most genuine portrayals of a reporter in recent history, providing depth and nuance for Jake, toiling with his obsession while realistically depicting his desire to lead a regular, stress-free life.

Likewise, Ken Watanabe is so believable as the withered police officer who has seldom mixed up right and wrong.

However, in order to help Jake tell his story, he has to take on certain journalistic habits, just as Jake has to take on the role of detective. As the two characters begin to work together, they form a weird father son bond with one another, which is only a display of the actors’ chemistry with one another.

VISUALS

Michael Mann truly gets his chance to shine with the visual aesthetic of the series. From Manhunter
to Miami Vice to the Last of the Mohicans to Ali, this is a filmmaker who knows how to utilize cinematic language to tell a story. Of course, TV is an entirely different beast when you take into account duration and scope, but with some of his favorite themes at play, his neo-noir tendencies create some of the most entrancing experiences on screen, wrapped in a thick coat of style.

The use of color in particular is impossible to miss, with neon bleeding through every sequence. Although, the very beginning provides a soft dichotomy with grays and browns dominating the palette to better emphasize Jake’s odyssey later. However, as the story gets more and more demented, you see it punctuated in front of you in the cinematography. The camera angles become more unconventional, the visual storytelling becomes absolutely experimental at times, and the palette changes completely to neon blue, pink, and purple textures rather than the dry colors showcased before.

MUSIC

Composers Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans created a musical score that tonally resembles the rest of Michael Mann’s work while still being something all its own—a soundtrack full of abstract influences accompanied by somber piano motifs and some cinematic sweeps that accompany absolutely jaw-dropping, mind numbing moments.

VERDICT

Tokyo Vice never shows all of its cards to the viewers, always keeping something on the back burner so that it can surprise you later on in the series, with them all concluding in the final episode. Powered by a fantastic script, the series is then elevated by incredible performances, memorable production design, and impactful camerawork, fully showcasing both the beauty and the enigma that is Tokyo.

It represents the true essence of crime in this metropolis, giving us insight into this world from an outside perspective and pushing us down the rabbit hole with the main character as we both wonder what we’ve got ourselves into.

CONCLUSION

The Halo series might seem like a great starting point to dive into the franchise, but it’s not a great representation of the video games or the comics, or even the animated stories. It’s an entity of its own that follows its own rules and world-building separately from the games.

As much as I disagree with the way Paramount has showcased Master Chief in this series, I would still love to see a different interpretation of the character and in a much more meaningful way.
Halo, the TV show, isn’t bad by any means, and perhaps the jumping off point we need to get to something even better. Fingers crossed for a more in-depth and nuanced portrayal of the characters in the franchise. But for now, the best we can do is hope that this series finds a better path for the characters they are dealing with now.

About the Author: ZAYN BATES

Zayn Bates

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