Tokyo Vice Recap: Choose the Right

Tokyo Vice

Week 2 (Episodes 4-5)
Season 1 Episode 2
Editor’s Rating 4 stars

Tokyo Vice

Week 2 (Episodes 4-5)
Season 1 Episode 2
Editor’s Rating 4 stars
Photo: James Lisle/HBO Max

Damn, welcome to episodes four and five of Tokyo Vice, where everything heats up.

We last saw Jake Adelstein in the custody of the yakuza in the final moments of “Read the Air,” seemingly ready to break the next barrier and get closer to what’s really happening. We also left Sato at his own crossroads — in deep shit with Hitoshi Ishida (Shun Sugata), head of the Chihara-kai crime family, for beating the hell out of a fellow yakuza — offering up a hot tip that will hopefully prove his loyalty.

That tip, incidentally, is Jake, whose proximity to the police makes him an asset rather than a threat for the time being. Both our guys still find themselves standing at the outer doorway of a complex system, but by the end of episode five, “Everybody Pays,” they’ll have found their way in. Doors open, others close, new threats appear in the form of old adversaries, and the past reemerges in the form of new enemies. Hell yeah, Tokyo LMFG!

I Want It That Way

Jake rolls up on a gorgeous goddamned house enveloped in the dankest forest you ever saw. Those forests in Japan, dude, I’m tellin’ ya. When Jake comes upon the whole scene whispering “shiiiit,” you’re thinkin’ the same thing. It turns out this is Ishida’s house, and he has summoned Jake to do him a favor.

Our oyabun is in a tight spot, see, at the bad end of an unfortunate rumor that he is bribing the cops. When he serves visiting police tea at his office, they no longer drink it for fear of looking like they’re on the take. Meanwhile, Ishida’s men see the cops refuse tea and start to think maybe their boss is an informant. “Neither is true,” Ishida tells Jake, “but the perception is undeniable.” And if the perception doesn’t change? “Someday soon, my men will make me dig my own grave and shoot me in the head.”

“That’s a tough spot,” Jake replies, still playin’ it cool as hell with this hard yakuza boss (gotta say, Elgort’s comin’ in hot with the Sonny Crockett–ass energy now). He takes it like a champ when Ishida asks him to persuade his “connected police friends” to find the rumor source and offers his “undying gratitude.”

Cut to the drive home, nobody in the car but Jake in the back and Sato at the wheel pumpin’ Backstreet Boys through the stereo. This is where the bromance between these two space cowboys begins in earnest. After a brief squabble when Sato reveals he told Ishida about Jake, “I Want It That Way” cuts through the speakers and Sato just starts belting it out with no reservation. King shit. Jake is so amused but also visibly man-crushing hard on Sato at this moment, which includes an inevitable discussion about how “I Want It That Way” is about wanting it that way, you know, like fucking? The point is, Jake and Sato are young and restless but all the more confident having just made their first step together across the line from flailing rookie to smooth operator in this complex system.

… Tell me why-ee? Sorry, couldn’t resist. Anyway, these episodes were directed by Hikari, a relative newcomer and formidable craftswoman for television’s ever-expanding narrative form. With a unique combination of economic, fluid shots and tight, dynamic framing that both wrangle and thriller-ize the material, and an indescribably warmer handle on the characters and performances, Hikari fosters a marked sea change in the story thus far, especially in comparison to the shift from Michael Mann’s pilot to Josef Kubota Wladyka’s second and third episodes. In a similar fashion to our iconoclastic operators within the show, Hikari picks up the trail laid before her and cuts her own stylistic path.

For the most part, it works like a charm, even in sections where you kind of feel the strain of changing hands. The newsroom scenes at Meicho Shimbun, for example, sort of feel like they’re in a different place from what we’ve seen of it in previous chapters. But Hikari also does a great job setting up a warmer group dynamic in the office between Jake, his buddies “Trendy” (Takaki Ud) and “Tin Tin” (Kosuke Tanaka), and editor Eimi, who really pops off with investigative chutzpah this time around. In an All the President’s Men–style development, she starts taking a serious interest in Jake’s connected suicide story now that the details and evidence are starting to coagulate. She remembers another story about a suicide with similar details and takes Jake with her to visit the suicide victim’s widower. Where Jake fumbles through his bedside manner with this grieving subject, Eimi is able to show appropriate empathy and draw an almost familial connection, establishing that they’re not only both Korean but that Eimi’s family is from the same area as his wife. She’s opening doors still closed off to Jake, and their Woodward-and-Bernstein dynamic adds a welcome new dimension to our ongoing investigation.

With the address of the mysterious loan company secured, Jake accompanies Eimi to the place but waits outside as Eimi feigns a sob story about being desperate for a loan with an employee inside. “You’ve come to the right place,” he responds. “We don’t turn anyone away.” Hook, line, and sinker, this stooge gives Eimi a bunch of paperwork to sign, which ends up being the key to the whole sinister operation. See, this company is getting people to take out life-insurance policies, name the credit company as a beneficiary, then hounding the indebted until they kill themselves and collect on those policies. “Jesus, they found a way to monetize suicide,” Jake realizes. “Even for yakuza, that’s pretty fucking evil.”

Meanwhile, on the police front, Katagiri is up to his usual badassery, offering sage advice between bustin’ heads, takin’ names, and hobnobbing with various bosses. He’s interrogating a yakuza from Tozawa’s gang, not so subtly suggesting that the rumor about Ishida wouldn’t carry much weight coming from an enemy. “But if it came from inside the Chihara-kai itself, that’s another story, meaning your boss has managed to flip someone in Ishida’s camp.” Off-screen, Katagiri gets the name of the mole, who we’ll later find out is Sato’s mentor, Kume (Masayoshi Haneda).

Speaking of Tozawa, it’s pretty wild when Jake confronts him at that fancy-ass restaurant — true-blue, guns-blazin’, American shit, am I right? Honestly surprised he had the energy for it after his, uh, eventful night out with Sato (who is clearly none too pleased to be in Jake’s company for this exchange). He calls him a gangster to his face and gives him his card and everything, real vintage Bond vibes. Tozawa claps back, though, as one would expect: “Reporters here are not always well liked. Soon you will find out. Especially when they’re good at their job.” A man without enemies is no man at all.

I know what you’re thinking, but relax, I definitely haven’t forgotten about Samantha, whose whole arc unfolds in these episodes in a way I could never have predicted, but should have known would be so, well, intimately my shit, seein’ how I was vibing with her most from the get-go. At the top of “I Want It That Way,” our girl is scoping out some new digs for her future club and coming under fire from her boss, Duke, when word gets out about her plan. Urged by Kume to give her a hard time and keep her in line, Sato also pays her a visit, to which she’s like don’t even try to threaten me, asshole. I love the way Samantha postures herself when threatened by her vying overlords, clapping back with equal strength and bravado. Real James Caan in Thief vibes. (Yes, I’m still tracking all the Michael Mann–isms in this show ’cause that’s what you get with me, a guy who still works to the tune of vaporwave playlists by day and gets high ’n watches ThiefManhunterMiami Vice, Collateral by night.)

The heat closes in too tight on Samantha, though, when a dinner with a client turns sour. At some point in the conversation, this guy hits her with a bunch of personal information, then reveals he’s some private investigator who has tracked her down. After some obstinate back-and-forth, Samantha finally asks, “What do you want?” They’ll get to that later, he responds. “Consider everything you have to lose here, and as your people would say, choose the right.”

And that’s when my Mormon-ass ears perked up.

Everybody Pays

See, your humble recapper was also born and raised in Utah (with a CTR ring and “Called to Serve” journal of my own), also did the whole mission thing before I stopped practicing. I served in Germany, immersed myself in another world, another language, and came away with the place having changed me far more than I ever could have changed it. It didn’t take long for me to go back to study abroad, where I spent way more time in Berlin’s bars, clubs, and artists’ haunts than I did in class. And like Samantha, I feel a heightened sense of precarious ownership over the life I’ve cut out for myself since leaving the church. “I love my life here,” she tells fellow hostess and confidante Polina. “I don’t want to lose everything that I made. made this. This is me. I cannot go back there.” Granted, I didn’t steal 40 grand from the church before I left, though I can certainly empathize with the impulse. Unfortunately, looks like this private-investigator dude ain’t goin’ anywhere anytime soon, and sounds like he’s out to extort Samantha for sexual favors? Yikes, somebody needs to mess this guy up.

Back on the mole hunt, Jake and Katagiri have one of their meetings in the park (I love the heartwarming, familial buddy-cop dynamic forming between them). Katagiri gives Jake the info that’ll lead to Kume (I didn’t see that one coming) and offers some fatherly advice about dealing with Ishida. “When you accept favors from the yakuza, you open a door. Once opened, it is very hard to close. Lie down with dogs; rise up with fleas.”

But Jake remains desperate for information on his own, so when the time comes to hand the mole reveal off to Ishida, he can’t help but ask about the loan company in return. “This is not Chihara-kai,” Ishida says. “We’re in the loan business. All the major yakuza are. But this, driving customers to suicide to collect insurance payouts, this is NOT the righteous path.” To find out who they are, Ishida advises, Jake will have to look for the people who didn’t give the loans, not the people who did.

Off of that tip, Jake finds out that each of the families impacted by the suicides went to the same legitimate loan company and were directed to the bad one from there. “Chase it,” Eimi says, and chase it he does. Having arranged a meeting with this asshole from the legit loan company, Jake shows up to find he recognizes his interlocutor from his run-in with Tozawa. Under the guise of being a green American journalist with weak Japanese, Jake inquires about the suicide victims, eventually dropping the hammer on what he knows. “Your very discerning bank turned these people down for loans here and sent them elsewhere, to this place,” Jake says. “I’m gonna write this story with or without your help. Give me Tozawa, and I’ll leave you out of it.”

So this guy confirms everything, that he was the one funneling clients to the predatory lender, and there was yakuza involvement, all off the record because he’s got wire transactions incriminating Tozawa. Unfortunately, Jake never gets those wire transactions, because the lender, at the behest of Tozawa, kills himself and takes responsibility for the whole thing. “The banker, he dug his own grave,” Katagiri will later tell Jake. Thinking he’s responsible drives Jake mad, so, on the advice of Katagiri, he gets drunk and belligerent with Samantha at the club when she’s not listening intently to his sob story. She’s got her own problems.

But hey, she and Sato make up and finally bang, which is awesome. Sato’s in a bad spot as well, having just witnessed his buddy Kume jump off a goddamned building in a wild reveal that he’s the mole. “You’re so desperate to hold onto what’s yours; you’ve lost sight of the future,” Kume tells Ishida in their final confrontation. “You cling to worthless traditions while Tozawa innovates! Pushes boundaries!” If Chihara-kai refuses to sell drugs, how are they supposed to survive? But Ishida ain’t buyin’ it, and he hands his gun over to Sato to finish off his traitorous mentor. Kume spares Sato the obligation and jumps from the rooftop. Displeased with the performance, Ishida gives him an ultimatum. “Are you a part of Chihara-kai or not? Choice is yours.” Later, during their postcoital heart-to-heart, Sato will tell Samantha that he lost a friend that day. “I know I am not like him, but if I continue like this, I’m afraid I will end like him.” Samantha feels a living connection with Sato, the likes of which she hasn’t felt since those fleeting moments of spiritual bliss at church. “If you want to change your life, change your life. I made mistakes, but I got out of my cage. You can too.”

We end on a killer action sequence, the first one in the series, really. Sato shows up at Ishida’s place to find it in the midst of a siege. Our guy fights like hell and saves Ishida’s life, finishing this episode off with a bang, not a whisper, which I guess means we can close the file on Sato’s loyalties … for now.

Off the Record

• Seriously y’all, I cannot express to you in words how trippy it was for me when all the Mormon stuff came up. Felt like the show was refracting my interior life in real time — spooky shit. It didn’t help that I just so happened to get a phone call from the local missionaries in my area the very evening I watched these episodes (reactivating non-practicing members is part of full-time missionary work).

• Worth noting that we actually see Jake’s mom on the other end of the phone line this time (played by prestige-TV veteran Jessica Hecht). I am interested to see what that means going forward. Will we see the rest of Jake’s family down the road? His sister, maybe?

• Lots of great work from Ken Watanabe in these episodes, am I right? He really crushes it in his scene with Ishida, so much so that Ishida seems, like, spiritually diminished by the end of it. And the double-breasted suit game, oh my gawd! Giving Colin Firth in the Kingsman movies a run for his money. Also, he is beyond adorable when he’s singing that frog song with his daughters.

• Speaking of a diminished Ishida, I haven’t really addressed yet the fact that both he and Tozawa start off from a place of diminished capacity to varying degrees, both physical and professional. Something there about the corrupting weight of power and violence. Rich visual ideas abound, as they do in lots of other places.

• It was both a thrill and a curse watching Eimi at work in this episode, like, speaking of smooth operators, man. As tough as watching her endure straight-up sexual harassment from the cop she’s trying to get information from, you really get a sense of how slick a reporter she is and the toll it can take on her.

Tokyo Vice Recap: Choose the Right