Tokyo Vice Recap: On Your Knees

Tokyo Vice

Week 3 (Episodes 6-7)
Season 1 Episode 3
Editor’s Rating 4 stars

Tokyo Vice

Week 3 (Episodes 6-7)
Season 1 Episode 3
Editor’s Rating 4 stars
Photo: James Lisle/HBO Max

Boy, we’re in the thick of it now, aren’t we, folks? Just when you think you’ve got a handle on the game of sex, drugs, and crime in the city, you find the board beneath your feet is like six levels of 3-D chess deeper than before, and bravado is no substitute for true prowess. Main players on all sides are lost in the weeds right now, and as things stand, it’s tough to see who’s got enough of either to come out on top.

The Information Business

“The Information Business” starts with Jake showing up at Sam’s place to apologize for his previous assholery at Onyx (Japanese “I’m sorry chocolates” in tow), then immediately puts his foot in his mouth by telling her to be careful with her new BF Sato. He “knows those people” and “how they live their lives” and doesn’t want to see Samantha get in too deep. I don’t know if it’s just that Jake’s head is too far up his own ass right now (which, as we’ll soon see, it is), but the guy really should know by now that everyone, including Samantha, has been playing by Tokyo’s rules for longer than he has.

But these days, introspection just ain’t where Jake’s head is at. Still searching for another route to Tozawa, he notices that the same writer, Ukai Haruki, is doing all the big Tozawa profiles for the yakuza fan magazines, so he pays him an impromptu visit. Posing again as a happy-go-lucky gaijin with weak Japanese and a head in the clouds, Jake comes on strong like he’s a big fan. Haruki lets Jake into his place and shows him a next-level wall of photos and clippings that put the Charlie conspiracy meme to shame. The conversation shifts to Tozawa’s mistresses, one of which, Hakuri notes, was killed for talking to the press. Jake takes notice of Misaki, Tozawa’s number-one gal who we’ve seen sporadically in previous episodes, and follows her into a shopping mall for a quick chat. Our girl is slick as hell, though, sizing up Jake in an instant, so when he asks her if she’d like to comment on Tozawa’s departed girlfriend, she’s like, Nah, you gotta be either stupid or crazy to ask me that, bro. Jake says he gets that she might be afraid of Tozawa. “No,” she replies, “it is you who should be afraid, Meicho-san.”

’Cause really everyone in this show has something that they are or should be afraid of, even the power players of the yakuza. Six episodes in, and we’re only just starting to dig into how complex this system is, who’s really in charge, and who is propelled by pressure from above and beside them. A meeting has been called to resolve the bubbling turf dispute between Tozawa and Ishida. Chairman Nakahara, the current “kumicho,” or supreme kingpin, is in attendance as arbiter. Chihara-kai makes a simple case, Tokyo is their territory, Tozawa’s is to the west. Tozawa has tried to invade their territory. “If one of us is violated, we all are!” Tozawa offers a big suitcase full o’ money as penance, and like a boss, Ishida only takes half. For this apology, Tozawa will have to get on his knees. For a second, there’s a killer low angle shot of Tozawa’s clenched fist before he bows, and he takes his licking.

Later on, Tozawa and Nakahara are alone, and that’s when we find out this whole scheme was Nakahara’s to begin with. Tozawa’s pissed about losing face and having to grovel at Ishida’s feet. “Lose face?” Nakahara replies, “It was you, not me, who botched the assassination. I chose you to come here and infiltrate. Plant our flag in Tokyo. But you failed.” Fail him again, and Tozawa will have to pay with more than just his knees and a stack o’ cash.

Meanwhile, striking while the iron’s hot, Ishida and Sato conspire to give Jake a juicy tip on Tozawa’s drug routes. Jake’s reluctant to act on the info at first, says he doesn’t want to use it to help one gangster take down another. “Yes, we’re both gangsters,” Ishida replies, “But Tozawa is a virus. You know my way is better than his.” Hard to argue with that. So Jake sprints over to Katagiri’s place to relay the info in hopes that they can raid the arriving plane in the morning. Always the level-headed master, Katagiri is hesitant to jump on this tip with haste, and Jake, seemingly taking more dumbass juice than usual, is in no frame of mind to heed his counsel. I guess that’s easy for me to say now that I know the raid goes south, and they don’t find anything on the plane. We also find out that Miyamoto, who Jake comes to with the tip when Katagiri won’t budge, has been on the take for Tozawa all along. Tozawa’s pissed that he’ll have to figure out a new way to get his product into Japan, but as Miyomoto reminds him, the merchandise was protected. Despite Jake’s objections, Meicho publishes his story on the raid with a police failure angle, which bodes horribly for his career. And now Tozawa knows exactly who he is. I guess that’s where that good ol’ cowboy hubris can get ya on Tokyo Vice.

We also find Samantha coming up against the limits of her own power and understanding. Sato, too, for that matter, whose recent, uh, promotion to Ishida’s de facto right-hand man after that kick-ass siege, already has him a bit overwhelmed. There’s this great shot at the top of the episode of Sato in the back of a chauffeured car, the window slowly unrolling to reveal our favorite hot-shot young yakuza lookin’ cool as fuck, cut by a flash of images from the siege that leave him agitated and breathing heavy. This was Sato’s first kill, and as Ishida later tells him, the first kill should bother you. “The ones to come will not.”

That’ll be put to the test pretty quick when Samantha tells Sato about Matsuo and asks him for help. After this beautiful little interlude where Sato cooks for her (so well constructed and acted that it made me legit emotional), she shows him her CTR ring and, for the viewer, unveils a new layer of significance to it. Her father gave it to her to remind her of her duty, not to their faith, but to him. And now he’s hired this Matsuo guy to hunt her down. Being brought up in a highly orthodox Mormon family will teach you that love, in all its forms, is ultimately conditional and most effectively reinforced by a series of social transactions that signal devotion. Sato is no stranger to this setup either, and that’s where this love story exits the honeymoon phase as quickly as it blossomed. In the most lethal meaning of the term, Sato takes care of Matsuo, and the episode ends with our two love birds in a funk over it. If every relationship you’ve ever had has been transactional in some way or another, how do you turn that off when a real one comes along?

Sometimes They Disappear

Sliding into the next episode and Polina, Samantha’s fellow hostess and only real friend in Tokyo, has vanished. We last saw her vying for the affections of favorite client and rival club host Akira, adding some serious notches to her liquor tab and partying the night away in a sea of noise, shadows, and neon. Samantha’s busy breaking ground on her new club, so it’s been a week by the time she finds out Polina’s disappeared. Meanwhile, Sato seems to be settling into his role as Ishida’s eyes, ears, and enforcer. At dinner, the two lovers already feel like an old couple with harbored secrets between them, unsure whether they can fully trust each other with their most vulnerable selves. Samantha mentions that Polina’s been missing, and Sato tells her, “Sometimes people need time to think.” She ain’t buyin’ it, though, so she confronts Akira, who shoos her off and doesn’t take her seriously until she shows up at his club with Sato in tow.

Sato’s just had a rough reunion with his family when he gets the call from Sam. His father is in the hospital, having suffered a minor stroke while loading his fishing boat. Mom’s clearly not a fan of her son’s career; when Sato offers to pay for all medical expenses, she gives him a swift slap in the face and a Fuck you, you’re what did this to him. Soooo, he is not in the best frame of mind when he comes to Sam’s beck and call. He roughs up Akira at his club enough to get in to see the manager, who tells them Pollina was a regular whose debt got out of hand. The girls in debt are sent to Yoshino to pay off what they owe, and when they come back, they usually run it up all over again.

Tozawa’s men happen to be in the club when Sato rolls up, which could put him in hot water for stirring shit, just as Ishida has given a strict no-stirring-shit order until things cool off. Sam gives him one too many Baby, help me pleas, and Sato can’t take it anymore. “Don’t treat me like a client. You can barely look at me, but when you need something, I’m your baby.” Things have been off with them since he killed Matsuo, and Sato thinks maybe Samantha is in over her head. “This is a dangerous world. People get hurt. Sometimes they disappear. Maybe it’s not for you.”

Samantha isn’t the only one with the wind about to get knocked out of her sails. On the Tozawa and Miyamoto front, things are about to get hairy. See, my man Katagiri knows something was up with that botched raid. He knows Ishida’s tip was probably good, and he knows what to do next. So he gets permission to set a trap, the execution of which is probably the most immediately satisfying piece of the whole puzzle thus far.

Freshly redeemed from the embarrassment of the failed raid by apprehending a suspect in a high-profile murder, Miyamoto and two other vice officers are recruited to help Katagiri and the organized crime squad in their case against Tozawa. The story they’re fed is that Katagiri’s got some incriminating documents on lockdown in the basement, and they’re finally enough to make an arrest. Miyamoto makes a quick stop at Tozawa’s big birthday bash (where the yakuza boss will eventually collapse on the floor in front of all his guests) to inform him of the documents, to which Tozawa orders him to make some copies, fast. So Miyamoto breaks into that basement evidence room to find nothing but a camera staring down at him. The key to this game is seeing steps and steps ahead of your enemy, looking at what’s already on the game board, and using it to your advantage. For now, Katagiri’s the one who’s got that figured out, but we’ll see what roadblocks come up in the finale.

Anyway, while all of this is going on, Jake’s on the outs. Katagiri’s no longer speaking to him or returning his calls, so he’s left to his own devices. Gotta say, it’s pretty funny when Jake, having just hooked up with that sex worker again, emerges into the daylight flippin’ on some goofy-ass sunglasses and lighting a cigarette with the unearned swagger of someone hoping his audience will point at him and whisper, “that’s the Tokyo Vice.” But just as he’s at his swaggiest, a ghost from his past pops up on the street in the form of some goofy MF from high school. This living apparition clearly rattles Jake, but later that night he takes his old high school buddy to the club, where he runs into Misaki. Ever determined to fly closer and closer to the sun, Jake hits the dance floor with her and inquires further about her relationship with Tozawa over drinks on the roof. By the time Tozawa’s men show up to collect her (and get rough with Jake’s high-school buddy, putting a knife to his cheek and everything), you get the sense that Jake is just realizing how heavy things are getting for him.

When he gets home at the night’s end, he finds Samantha there waiting at his door. “I need your help,” she says. With only one episode left, it’s hard to say whether this will mean redemption for them both or just another story with no ending and no hard suspects.

Off the Record

• Josef Kubota Wladyka, director of episodes two and three, is back at the helm for this week’s chapters — a chiasmatic handoff that serves the material well. In the last recap, I mentioned that Hikari’s directorial work in episodes four and five infused the series with a warmer sense of character and meticulous camerawork that propelled the action forward in a uniquely immediate, kinetic way. Wladyka sort of piggy-backs on those added dimensions here while re-igniting the show’s core Michael Mann-ness so everything hums on a cool, sublime register.

• I must say I’m surprised at how quickly things went south for Tozawa. But also, it checks out, seeing how he was an ailing boogeyman standing in front of the real mastermind of this whole takeover operation. As things stand, he’s a fascinating case study in power fenced in by the inevitability of decay.

• Now is a good time to finally acknowledge how sick the music has been in this show. Really popped off in a big way in these episodes. Props to composers Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans for crafting a sound as dank and pulsating as the Tokyo night air.

• Incredible whole-ass scene dedicated to referencing The Matrix. “Show what happens when you take the red pill.” LOL.

• I was pretty stoked when Sato took Matsuo out of the picture. It obviously made a winning setup for a compelling emotional arch between Sato and Samantha, and it was a relief to know that the remainder of Samantha’s arch this season wouldn’t be taken up with, like, having to deal with this creep, ya know?

• Eimi continues to be an MVP, really holding down the journalism fort, providing both emotional heft and ethos to her craft. Mirroring a scene with Jake from a few episodes ago, she doesn’t let Miyamoto get away with calling his apprehended suspect “some girl’s murderer.” The murdered girl was Karo Shoda, she explains. “Twenty-four years old, lived alone in Jiyugaoka. Collected vintage eyeglass frames, loved shoo manga. Karoi Shoda. Not ‘some girl.’” As she’ll explain later to Jake, Eimi does what she does despite the indifference because somebody has to tell the truth. “Someone,” she says, “has to build the wall of information, brick by brick, until the fact can’t be ignored and things have to change.”

Tokyo Vice Recap: On Your Knees