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Tokyo Vice (season 2)–American in Translation

Based on an American reporter’s experience as a twenty-something neophyte journalist in Tokyo, Jake Adelstein, (Ansel Elgort from “Baby Driver”)  is a cocky American. Living in Tokyo during college, Jake becomes fluent in Japanese, both spoken and written, in order to become a reporter for a major Japanese newspaper.  He is the first non-Japanese to have such a position.

In season 2 (see June 17, 2022 review of season 1) Jake continues his investigation of the Yakuza who control the police and the government.  Again we see the unlikely partnership between the politically impractical Japanese officer Katagiri (Ken Watanabe) and Jake team up to fight corruption and explore the underbelly of the Yakuza.  As in season 1 Katagiri is protective of his beautiful wife and young daughter who are soon targeted by the Yakuza as the key vulnerability that could compromise Katagiri’s integrity. The dynamic mentor/student relationship becomes unstable as Katagiri struggles to do the right thing without harming his own family.

Deputy Yakuza Sato  (Sho Kasamatsu), a rising star being groomed by the elderly boss, continues to fight for survival while walking the tightrope between loyalty and escape from the world of crime and brutality. A rival crime boss,  Tozawa (Ayumi Tanida), whose ambition to create a crime syndicate dominating all of Japan, is perhaps mirrored in the tattoos that cover his entire body.  His impunity to all consequences for his actions including a mistress he flaunts in front of his wife to humiliate her, his ruthless murder of his rivals to ensure loyalty from his acolytes, and his ability to cower the police epitomize the evil he luxuriates in. His own sense of self is sufficient indemnification from any notion of crime.  Tozawa represents the kind of man whose soul has warts on its scars.

The women perhaps are even in a more precarious situation than the yakuza acolytes trying to avoid being seen as disloyal and the police wishing to remain invisible.  Jake’s newspaper manager, Eimi (Rinko Kikuchi of Babel and Pacific Rim) has to hide evidence she discovers until she can prove her case for fear of being fired.   Tozawa’s mistress (Ayumi Ito) has to hide her affection for Jake from Tozawa.   And Katagiri’s superior officer (Miki Maya), in the  uncommon role as the chief investigating officer and female, honors her own sense of integrity over her career.  Samantha (Rachel Keller), an LDS missionary who stayed in Japan to become one of Tokyo’s most successful nightclub hostesses, is both an alluring friend of Jake’s as well as Sato’s.

What makes season 2 even better than the first season is the shift away from the crimes committed to the backstories of each main character, their troubled past carving out their identity.  Perhaps only Tozawa, the villain, is missing a history to explain  his ruthlessness, damaged soul,  and completely psychopathological behavior.  The enormously complex stew of jealousy, retribution, regret, duplicity and vengeance will leave the viewer breathless at times. 

The  Japanese cast is brilliant.  The screenwriting  combines the major plot with several subplots which will twist and startle the viewer from episode to episode, particularly the last two–surprises at times ugly and shocking. Ayumi Tanida as Tozawa, is heart-pounding as a merciless criminal whose scenes of being tattooed will make your skin crawl as well.  

The overall season is absolutely magnificent. 

Availability:  Netflix

Warning:  Not for viewers who do  not watch violent scenes. 

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