We're keeping the ball rolling here on Japan.
Again, very similar circumstances brought this show to my attention and I have no problem saying a big draw point to it was Ken Watanabe and seeing Japan set in the 90s. Kinda already burned me first episode that the show takes place at the tail end of the 90s, and really there isn't much evidence throughout to solidify the time period but more on that later. So our story follows american news journalist Jake Adelstein as he gets his first reporting job at a japanese newspaper and fairly quickly gets wind of a loan service connected with several suicides and tries to gather information on that while navigating the workplace environment, the yakuza, and a semi-romantic life. I will say straight up, not a bad premise but I feel even at the end of this season, and a second one has been approved, it does still feel like buildup to the next thing. Nothing big happens except for something one of our main players gets into. It is a show where the first season is setting the board with all the pieces in place before stuff really kicks off. It's also an ensemble cast and while undoubtedly Jake is our main lead, each player has ties to the central conflict of crime bosses in Tokyo. We have Samantha, a direct and no bullshit american who works as a hostess in yakuza controlled businesses. Sato, who is a member of the yakuza and frequently interacts with Jake and Samantha, even forming a kinda sorta love triangle. Katagiri, a Tokyo cop who hasn't ever been bribed and takes Jake under his wing to bust up the crime families and educate him on how the system of law works in Japan. And Eimi, who is Jake's superior and busts his ass frequently to not play detective and simply report but slowly gets involved in the deduction process. So it's this intricately designed web of a story but the good news is it's not difficult to keep up with, each main character has a distinct setting and supporting cast to where you know very quickly who each person is and what aspect of the story is being progressed. And the more I write this out, the more I think it's very Gotham-esque. A first season where things happen here and there but leave the hard hits till the last episode and leaves you more with intrigue than satisfaction for the next season, Katagiri is very much a Jim Gordon character with Jake being a quasi Bruce digging into the seedy underbelly of the city, and each character has a unique setting that further identifies them with many many ties focusing on the center of organized crime families. Cut the ludicrous storylines, case of the week, and budding rogues gallery out of Gotham and you aren't too far off the mark for Tokyo Vice. It didn't grab me as immediately or as strongly as Miss Sherlock but I was willing to see it to the end, it's only 8 episodes each about an hour long, and I thought it was decent. The casting is very solid in my opinion, first thing I've seen of Ansel Elgort since Baby Driver and he is a good lead, and props to the guy for being dedicated enough to learn japanese, which he pulls off effortlessly. Ken is not as prevalent as I would have liked him to be, but the performance is still good though I wish he got more attention in guiding Jake through this minefield of a city and more screentime. Rachel Keller is decent, not at all bashing anybody's acting in this show honestly they are performing everything with a lot of conviction and presence, yet I liked her more when she was a side character and not when she got upgraded to main character status but I blame that more on the plot than the woman herself. Rinko Kikuchi I really liked and while she is the meanest (the smallest that is) player in this ensemble, I really really hope she gets more screentime cause I could tell when I first saw her she was going to be interesting, she was going to have more to her than you think, and we get some of that so I'm looking forward to more of her. Sho Kasamatsu is in my opinion the most interesting in terms of character, he can be very laid back and fun for he is a young man and can be indeed funny, yet he has that anger and violence that would be expected from a gang member but at that same time you can tell it's not quite the life he would want for himself. A familiar character type of a reluctant criminal but done very well. So cast is rock solid, the production values are high but not top of the line which I would expect nothing less of, best intro to a modern series I've seen in a hot minute I mean beautifully styllish and unique, I dig it man. Now onto the time period idiosyncrasies, there isn't a great deal to remind you this show takes place in the 1990s. Now does that necessarily mean I need to see a Pokemon advert in the background, or see someone order a Zima in a bar, or carry around a Walkman on the streets every 5 minutes? Of course not, and you do get bits of 90s tech predominantly more so than any other facet of the decade. You got your mini cassettes, you got your portable phones, you got your VHS tapes, you got your Backstreet Boys and NSYNC, but the show looks like it was made in 2022 for modern times, with that ultra crisp definition of cinematography and admirable production of sets and clothing. Even when it flashes back to 1994 it doesn't do much to illustrate the time period. The show is based on a real reporter and all the shit that went down in his time in Japan in the 90s, but they could have updated the timeframe to present day and it wouldn't have changed a damn thing production wise. There is an art to making things look dated, look legit if it was made in a certain time and place in the world, and I don't get the sense a lot of modern filmmakers know how to achieve such a thing which is a rant for a whole other day. All in all, it's a decent but ultimately average first season, it has some good moments, some intrigue, good characters, but not a lot of story progression just not a whole lot gets accomplished but I figure they can really expand and knock this second season out of the park now that they've got their set up done and squared away to get people settled in this world they are fashioning. 2.5 stars, 7/10, one more show to go and it's not one you would really think to go in tandem with the rest this week.