Based on Jake Adelstein’s memoir, the HBO series “Tokyo Vice” portrays his real-life experiences from Tokyo, where Adelstein worked as a crime reporter for the prestigious Japanese newspaper, Yomiuri Shimbun (changed to Meicho Shimbun in the series). The series is majorly set in 1999, when Adelstein’s character, played by Ansel Elgort, joins the publication house with the zeal to become a part of history and starts investigating a mysterious loan shark company. As the series begins, one odd murder and a strange suicide case catch Adelstein’s attention, and those trials lead back to the Tokyo crime underworld, which involves threatening Japanese Yakuza gangs. Inevitably, Adelstein becomes a part of the gang war and faces the aftermath of it. Let’s look into the events of the first three episodes of “Tokyo Vice” and the world that they introduced to the viewers.
Episode 1: Recap & Ending
“Tokyo Vice” Episode 1 begins as crime detective Hiroto Katagiri (Ken Watanabe) and crime reporter Jake Adelstein (Ansel Elgort) attend a private meeting with a member of Shinzo Tozawa’s Yakuza gang. As the conversation points out, it seems that Adelstein has written a story about Shinzo Tozawa that may hurt his public image, and thus his right hand threatens Adelstein not to publish it. But before any other facts can be revealed, the narrative rolls back to 1999, two years before this meeting.
Jake Adelstein is an American Jew who hails from Missouri. His father works as a coroner, and due to some family issues, Adelstein relocated himself to Tokyo three years ago. In the opening montage, Adelstein prepares for the Meicho Shimbun newspaper entrance examination to get a job as a crime reporter at the greatest publication house in Japan while he works as a part-time English teacher to afford a living in Tokyo. Fortunately, Adelstein passes the written examination as well as the oral interview and finally becomes Meicho Shimbun’s first non-Japanese reporter born on foreign soil.
Adelstein works under the sub-cap Emi Maruyama and befriends two other freshers with whom he starts working at the Police Press Club while facing discrimination on a daily basis. For his first report, Adelstein comes across a murder case involving the death of a 42-year-old man named Aoki from Shinjuku Northern Ward, who was stabbed to death in the open on April 6th, 1999. Adelstein investigates Aoki’s mailbox and finds out that he had a bunch of overdue bills from a loan company; however, when he tries to trace down the loan company, he only meets with a dead-end that makes him suspicious of the whole scenario. He covers all the facts in his report, only to get shouted down by his senior to not write anything until and unless confirmed by the police report.
As Adelstein hustles to get a newsworthy story, he slowly learns the secrets of the trade from a senior detective Jin Miyamoto. Miyamoto takes Adelstein out to help him woo American women in a night bar called Onyx, where Adelstein meets an American hostess named Samantha and strikes up a conversation. However, Samantha quickly leaves the table. Miyamoto gets a message on his pager, so Adelstein leaves with him, only to witness another spine-chilling incident where an old man sets himself on fire in the Kabukicho district.
Adelstein finds a lighter at the crime scene that has the same logo as the loan company whose mail letters he found in Aoki’s mailbox and thus surmises that both these deaths are somehow connected. He tries to convince Emi to let him cover the story, but after she refuses, Adelstein takes the lead and follows Miyamoto’s advise to bribe a police officer to get the old man’s address, only to find out from his wife that he was shamed by some loan sharks to kill himself because he failed to pay back his debts. While Adelstein struggles to figure out the identity of the loan shark company, in another part of the narrative, Hitoshi Ishida takes charge of the Chihara-kai clan due to the health issues of Chairman Tanaka, and “Tokyo Vice” Episode 1 ends with his coronation ceremony.
Episode 2: Recap & Ending
“Tokyo Vice” Episode 2 majorly focuses on Adelstein’s struggle to find a good story to save his job while he tries to investigate the strange murder of Aoki and an old man’s suicide case at the end of Episode 1. The narrative also sheds light on other important characters like Samantha, her shy lover and Ishida-clan member, Sato, and the growing tension between the Chihara-kai gang and Tozawa’s gang.
Samantha has been living in Tokyo for quite some time now and aspires to open her own nightclub, but due to her nationality, she fails to get a guarantor for the bank loan and a landowner who is ready to rent her the property. While working as a hostess at Onyx nightclub, Samantha has saved a lot of hard cash and deals with all kinds of regular clients, which also includes Yakuza members, most particularly, Sato, who likes Samantha but fails to express his feelings. Sato gets envious when Adelstein makes his move towards Samantha and thus keeps an eye on him consistently.
Meanwhile, the owners and shop under Chihara-kai’s protection are attacked by their rival, Tozawa’s gang, but Hitoshi refuses to retaliate, noting that he will not openly declare war with Tozawa, as that would attract the cops, bringing in unwanted chaos. His defensive stance makes his gang members doubt his leadership and gives Tozawa the liberty to bully them further. One of the Tozawa gang members, Nakamura, stabs a member of the Chihara-kai gang in a bar in Kabukicho, where Adelstein sneaks in to capture some photographs when he is finally spotted by Hiroto Katagiri. That marks the beginning of their strong friendship (or bond).
“Tokyo Vice” Episode 2 ends as Hiroto resolves the fight between the two gangs and takes away Adelstein’s camera while requesting that he not cover the story. Adelstein looks at Hiroto as he leaves in his car while planning to meet him for a potential story.
Episode 3: Recap & Ending
“Tokyo Vice” Episode 3 finally introduces the antagonist of the story, Shinzo Tozawa, whose liver is on the verge of failure and urgently needs an organ transplant.
Adelstein, on the other hand, visits Hiroto’s house and requests a story, when Hiroto finally reveals to him about the building tension between the two gangs after Tozawa’s gang, hailing from Kansai, invaded Chihara-kai turf with the intention of claiming it, and their actions would inevitably lead to a gang war in Tokyo, which the police had to sort out at all cost. Hiroto prepares a team to arrest Nakamura and two other members of Tozawa’s gang after their violent attempt to disturb the peace, and on the mission, he eventually calls in Adelstein to cover the story that will help him build his career.
Adelstein’s story makes him shine in the office while he happily takes Samantha out to get to know her better. When Adelstein tries to find out more about her, Samantha refuses to share her past lives with him and lies consistently. However, a man named Matsuo, whom she met earlier in the bar, follows her and clicks her picture from a distance while also following her to her apartment, and keeping an eye on her from the terrace. Matsuo probably has some ulterior motive regarding Samantha, which will be further explored in upcoming episodes of “Tokyo Vice.”
Meanwhile, Adelstein pays a visit to Hiroto to thank him for the scoop that helped him save his job, and while leaving, he discusses with him the mysterious loan shark company and its logo that were somehow connected to two suspicious murders in the city. Both Hiroto and Adelstein are certain that this loan shark company is probably run by some Yakuza gang. However, Hiroto refuses to share any confidential evidence with Adelstein, though when Adelstein leaves the house, Hiroto sends him a file that he received from Aoki’s wife, who was planning to sue the loan company before he was murdered. Through this file, Adelstein gets the registered number of the company, but before he can dig deeper, he is abducted by the members of the Chihara-kai clan.
Hitoshi Ishida probably ordered his men to bring in Adelstein after Sato revealed to Hitoshi that Adelstein could help them stop Shinzo Tozawa. Earlier, Sato brutally attacked one of his gang members and sent him to the hospital. Hence, when Hitoshi decided to punish him for his indiscipline, Sato snitched about Adelstein to save himself. Sato had been keeping an eye on Adelstein and also saw him covering the arrest of Tozawa gang members, which probably made him believe that he could become instrumental in bringing down Tozawa without resorting to violence. It can also be surmised that it would be through Hitoshi that Adelstein would get evidence against Tozawa that would help him cover a story on him that was talked about at the beginning of the series. The upcoming episodes will be able to clearly depict what role Adelstein will play in this violent gang rivalry.
“Tokyo Vice” is a 2022 crime drama series created by J. T. Rogers.