When the only constant is change, the only thing that really matters is how quickly and expertly you adapt to it.
In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised that “Yoshino,” Tokyo Vice’s season-one finale, would end on a bit of a cliffhanger. I guessed there’d be at least something of a resolve since the show started with a flash-forward and hasn’t been officially renewed for a second season yet. But anyone who’s been paying attention should know this is a game in constant motion, punishing players instantly for making brash moves at the wrong time. It’s all about the ebb and flow of the great galactic stream, baby.
Which is why we find our friends and opponents in various tight spots. The only one who seems to be okay at the top of this episode is Katagiri, who we open upon during a cheerful breakfast at home with his family, the sun shining so bright it feels like it can’t be contained within the frame. It feels like a dream sequence, and it’s a moment that will pass as swiftly as a dream, soon to be crushed by impending doom.
On that note: We cut from Katagiri’s dreamy family breakfast to the episode’s Trainspotting-esque meth sequence. Having exhausted other avenues, Jake and Samantha are thrust back together in a mutually beneficial, quid pro quo side quest. Samantha is looking for BFF Polina, who’s been taken to Yoshino to work off her debts. Jake’s got a source who might be able to tell them more, but they’ll need to score some quality crystal meth to get him to talk.
So they pay a visit to our favorite yakuza mag writer Ukai Haruki, with Samantha posing as a yakuza mag fangirl who met Jake at a hostel. Presumably still taking too many dumbass pills, Jake asks Haruki about Tozawa’s operation in Yoshino way too fast and the red flag is raised. Karuki knows he’s a reporter so they cut to the chase, offering him some top-notch shabu in exchange for what he knows. The only catch is they gotta stay and party with him before he talks. So the whole scene goes wooey-wooey as Jake smokes meth for the first time and Samantha parties with Karuki. She’s able to find out Yoshino is a “luxury” ship where Tozawa “hosts” top clients and business partners. Karuki gets handsy so Samantha throws a swift kick to his nuts, and she and Jake bounce. Jake’s still high as fuck out in the street so they duck into an alley and Samantha re-centers him with a big ol’ kiss. Gross. Sorry, like I get this is a love triangle we’re dealing with and the narrative thrust these two into each other’s arms at the perfectly opportune moment, but at this point, the thought of being Team Jake over Team Sato is about as appealing as being Team Jacob you feel me?
Unfortunately, being Team Sato is also something of a doomed position these days. Our guy finds himself at a bit of a crossroads here, if not literally for himself or his own fate (largely sealed as far as his yakuza involvement is concerned), then for his new recruit, whose just pissed off Ishida by fucking up his tea order and timidly clapping back when he’s called out in front of the whole crew. Poor kid tries to make up for his mistake with a yubitsume, the ritual of chopping off a fingertip in penance for an offense against another. Unfortunately he fucks that up too by cutting into the knuckle bone where he can’t cut all the way through. Sato takes him to the hospital, which basically acts as a symbolic hall of mirrors for him. Sitting in the waiting area, a little kid sitting with his mom points at Sato’s yakuza tattoo, to which he rolls down his sleeve in embarrassment. Later, in the hospital parking lot, he’ll catch a glimpse of a man helping his elderly mother on her way. Before his eyes, they morph into a happy, reconciled version of himself and his own mother — a true haunting in its unattainability. So he drops the kid off at home and tells him to go buy some sneakers, play some video games, and live a normal life.
Very few get second chances, and often even a second chance comes too late to change the fates. Take Miyamoto, who’s been caught red-handed dealing with Tozawa and has no choice but to reorient his alliances and join forces with Katagiri. In a serene detectives’ heart-to-heart by the river, Miyamoto tells Katagiri it all started with slipping info here and there to Tozawa’s guys, hoping they’d return the favor. Eventually, they did, with tips on drug shipments and cold-hard payments as a treat. Eventually, the tips dried out, but by then, Miyamoto was in too deep. “I did some good too. I know my record,” he tells Katagiri, “but I own my mistakes.” Katagiri fires back with the age-old you made a bad choice, but you’re a good cop routine, and together they hatch a scheme to reverse the tide of information, using Miyamoto’s status with Tozawa to expedite his arrest.
But as quickly as the tide of fate turned away from Tozawa in the last few episodes, it seems to have turned back in his favor. Our chief baddie has been screaming into the void from the moment we were introduced to him, so to speak — afflicted with a mystery terminal illness and obsessing over his naked, slowly decaying body in the mirror. Since then, just about every move he’s made has been an act of dying, but the go down swingin’ kind, you know? Rage, rage against the dying of the light and all that. Like every time he’s with Misaki, there’s this underlying feeling that she’s become an avatar for the life force he’s slowly losing, so he takes it out on her with a series of threats, meted out as thinly veiled romantic gestures. In episode six, he bated her into sharing what her life might look like after he’s gone, then threatens to kill her if she involves herself with another man before he dies. Things only get gnarlier in the finale when Tozawa confronts her about being seen with Jake at the club and hits her when she fails another of his sick tests to “prove her love.” He’s staring at his own decaying body in the mirror again when he gets a mysterious phone call, only his side of the convo we’re privy to. “That is very welcome news,” he says, “yes, tonight, I understand. Thank you.” Something tells me Tozawa’s into something good.
And whatever it is, it’s enough to boost his spirits and propel him into full “strike back” mode. Under the assumption that they’ve successfully tricked Tozawa into thinking Miyamoto’s still in his service, Katagiri and Miyamoto plan to raid the next drug shipment. Only Miyamoto, whose supposed to be arriving at the warehouse with Tozawa’s men, never shows — leaving Katagiri to enter the warehouse by himself. In what might be the most bone-chilling scene in the series, he finds himself face to face with Tozawa (Miyamoto presumably killed off-screen), who tells him Miyamoto’s mistake was trying to get him to believe Katagiri, the “only incorruptible man” he’s “ever met,” was on the take from Ishida. He also tells him he’s got eyes on his family, and he’ll kill them if Katagiri fucks with him or his clan anymore. With that, Tozawa’s off to the airport, where he’s staged a diabolical, anti-Casablanca sendoff on the tarmac with Misaki, again punctuating the affair with a thinly veiled threat: “You think I’m not long for this world, but I promise you, I’m going to be here for a long, long time.”
Throughout the season, Tozawa has proven to be a formidable, Kurusawan foe who’s dalliance with death is the very thing that propels him forward — not unlike the disfigured half-man half-metal-machine-lord Darth Vader of George Lucas’s Star Wars; or the aging, corrupt industrialists of Kurosawa’s The Bad Sleep Well. Speaking of The Bad Sleep Well, this episode reminds me of this relevant, killer line: “It’s not easy hating evil. You have to stoke your own fury until you become evil yourself.”
In other words, you gotta deal with your adversary to beat your adversary. For Samantha and Sato, passage through the great reset means sealing one’s deal with the devil as well. In a moment of weakness, Samantha takes the bait when Akira shows up at her place with a sob story about guys calling him up and demanding a big chunk of change for the safe return of Polina. I gotta say, I was surprised Samantha fell for this one. Like yeah, she was hesitant about forking over the money when the creeps in the van refused to show her Polina was there, but going that far without being more suspicious of Akira seemed out of character for her. Chalk it up to desperation on her part or the advantage of hindsight on mine, I guess. In any case, the whole thing puts her on the narrative path she was headed all along.
By the end of “Yoshino” we find Samantha having just lost a huge chunk of the money to Akira’s ambush; she’s got less than 24 hours to make the final payment on her new club or lose it entirely. So she turns to Ishida, who’s impressed with her ambitions and new ideas for the future of mizu shobai, as he’ll explain to Sato. “Tell the girl we’ll loan her the money for her club,” he orders. “Then, if her club makes good money, we’ll change the deal on her. Become full partners.” Having already mirrored James Caan’s posture in Thief when threatened by vying overlords, clapping back with equal strength and bravado, you can bet that Samantha won’t be having it when terms change and the yield of her labor is further siphoned.
Sato tries to stop Ishida from making this deal, hoping to relieve Samantha of his fate as he had done earlier for his recruit. But Ishida doesn’t budge. Why would he? It’s desperate times, and he holds the power to make the deal, with only rewards to reap from the labor of someone who’s excellent in their field. As Samantha tells Sato later, she knows this could go really bad for her, but she’s worked too hard to give up on everything she’s built.
Nearing the end of the episode, Jake is attacked at his apartment by Tozawa’s men and threatened with death should he continue investigating him and hangin’ with his girl. Hours later, Jake awakens in a bit of a state, calls home and catches his estranged father at the other end of the line. Sounds like his sister’s not doing well, and hell, Jake ain’t doin’ so hot now either. He could come home. “Is that what you really want, son?” his father asks, probably knowing the answer as much as we do. Because as the fates would have it, a videotape mysteriously shows up on Jake’s doorstep, and it’s got footage of Polina being murdered(?) on the good ship Yoshino. Whether they really want to or not, Jake and Katagiri are in it to win it now, and they’ll need each other if they’re going to survive the next stage. “I know that I fucked up,” the prodigal Jake says at his adoptive father’s door, “I know you don’t trust me, but I’m here asking for a second chance.” Here we go, second chances, round two (c’mon HBO Max, let’s make it happen) and “make sure you weren’t followed” on the way down.