Two years after its stylish debut, Tokyo Vice returns to the seedy late-90s underbelly of the Japanese capital for a second season that builds substantially on the first. For those needing a refresher, the moody crime drama follows American expat Jake Adelstein (Ansel Elgort), a rookie reporter investigating Tokyo’s ruthless yakuza mobs with the help of world-weary detective Hiroto Katagiri (Ken Watanabe). The first season established the ominous turf wars between rival gangs the Tozawa-gumi and the Chihara-kai, while Jake and Katagiri began exposing the ties between organized crime, politicians, and law enforcement.
Season two picks up in the aftermath of those simmering conflicts, with the survivors facing new threats that raise the stakes even higher. Katagiri contends with increased scrutiny over his methods even as a risky new assignment lets him take the fight to the yakuza. Jake continues reporting on the mob violence threatening his friends, unable to back down despite the danger. Hostess club manager Samantha (Rachel Keller) forges ahead with plans for her own club, entangling her further with mob money. Reluctant gangster Sato (Shô Kasamatsu) questions his loyalty to the Chihara-kai as the body count rises.
With its expanded scope, increased intensity, and strong performances, Tokyo Vice’s sophomore season builds seamlessly on the first, drawing us back into its seductive and treacherous world. Though not without some minor flaws, it remains one of today’s most transportive crime sagas.
Widening the Viewfinder
Rather than retread the familiar ground of season one, Tokyo Vice’s second season opts to broaden its perspective, introducing new characters and conflicts while upping the threat level for its established players. This wider viewfinder pairs nicely with the show’s stylish aesthetics, creating an immersive sense of a vibrant, sprawling Tokyo where danger lurks around every shadowy corner.
With the demise of season one heavy Hitoshi Tozawa, space opens up to shift focus onto the power struggle between the Chihara-kai and Tozawa-gumi mob factions. Slick new boss Naoki Hayama makes an explosive entrance, his reckless ambition contrasting the more judicious elders like oyabun Ishida. On the law enforcement side, Katagiri joins a special organized crime task force, finally taking the gloves off in his war against the yakuza even as bureaucrats threaten his badge.
Protagonist Jake branches out as well into covering motorcycle theft rings and the plight of Korean immigrants, though his brazen reporting continues to put everyone around him at risk. The most compelling new plotline follows Jake’s editor Emi, whose family history becomes increasingly important. As stakes heighten, once-neutral parties find it harder to avoid compromised positions.
Whether it’s Samantha’s financially ruinous club ambitions or Sato being forced to choose between his crime family and actual family, Tokyo Vice’s players old and new face escalating danger and impossible decisions. The threat to life and limb has never been more immediate, making season two an adrenaline-fueled thriller.
While the plot machinations of any good crime saga are important, it’s the characters that truly hook us, and Tokyo Vice continues to excel in this area thanks to phenomenal acting. Front and center is Ken Watanabe’s world-weary detective Hiroto Katagiri, whose new ruthless streak lets Watanabe highlight previously unseen shades of hardened intensity. Somehow still stealing scenes is Shô Kasamatsu as conflicted gang foot soldier Sato – Kasamatsu makes hisyearning for a normal life palpableeven as he tragically can’t walk away from the life he knows.
On the civilian side, Rachel Keller draws us into Samantha’s tragedy, her steeliness and vulnerability colliding as she bets everything on a nightclub pipe dream. Ansel Elgort, while occasionally overmatched by his Japanese co-stars, settles into leading man Jake with increased poise compared to season one. Rinko Kikuchi also impresses as Jake’s editor Emi, her expanded screentime revealing hidden depths.
And those are just the headliners – Tokyo Vice boasts an embarrassment of acting riches. Whether it’s venerated elder actor Renji Ishibashi as a wily ex-detective or Ayumi Ito’s complex turn as Sato’s not-so-innocent girlfriend, the ensemble continually unearths gems. New faces like Yōsuke Kubozuka threateningly shake up the status quo. Tokyo Vice has crafted one of TV’s deepest benches, making its criminal underworld feel remarkably lived-in.
A Loving Ode to 1990’s Tokyo
An integral part of Tokyo Vice’s appeal lies in its authentic sense of place, transforming the Japanese capital into a stylish neon noir wonderland. Just as season one immersed us in the 90’s iteration of this sprawling metropolis, season two continues utilizing real Tokyo locations far from the usual travel brochure sites. The club scenes were filmed in a working underground bar. We explore lesser-seen residential areas and winding back alleys that feel eerily removed from bustling city life. This provides an intoxicating “you are there” effect for viewers.
And what a there it is. Tokyo Vice’s crew lavish obsessive attention towards recreating the era, from flip phones and boxy cars to the cavernous, smoke-filled offices at Jake’s newspaper. The cinematography emphasizes Tokyo’s sheer scale along with its hidden intimacy, often turning the city itself into a main character – one that can entice and betray with equal force.
Combining its period touches with a seductive stylish sheen, Tokyo Vice continues its loving ode to a bygone Tokyo. There may be no better recent time capsule to 1990’s Japan and its pop cultureamelange of honor, danger, and neon city nightlife. The show remains a treat for the senses.
If Tokyo Vice has an Achilles heel, it’s the show’s occasional struggles with inconsistent tones and pacing. likely a side effect of its sprawling narrative reach. While most plotlines interweave with hypnotic grace, a few stray threads cause some abrupt shifts that momentarily snap us out of Vice’s lush world.
One example is Trendy’s romance subplot. Trendy is Jake’s upbeat coworker, usually relied on for comic relief. But a multi-episode storyline centered on Trendy’s new relationship turns surprisingly dramatic, delving into issues of sexuality in 99′ Japan. It’s weighty stuff, but feels disconnected from the show’s usual fare.
We also make pit stops for peripheral backstories that, while humanizing supporting players, contribute little to the central gang war. The emotional runway needed to stick these landings feels shortened. While a testament to the show’s bold scope, the tonal inconsistency remains Vice’s most glaring flaw.
Overall however, the pacing issues stem more from an abundance of ideas than any lack of skill. For much of its runtime, Tokyo Vice enthralls as well-oiled machine. But no machine hums perfectly forever.
Long Live the Yakuza
While Tokyo Vice boasts no shortage of compelling hooks, let’s face it – the continuing power struggles between the Chihara-kai and Tozawa clans remain the bloody, beating heart that pumps lifeblood into the series. Season two doubles down on the internecine yakuza conflicts, pitting cunning ruthlessness against incendiary ambition. The introduction of breakneck gangsters like Naoki Hayama quickens the pulse, their brazen plays for power dragging civilians like Samantha deeper into the underworld orbit.
Yet for all its flashy violence, what makes the mob war so gripping is its nuance – cops versus robbers this is not. Characters have complex motivations driven by loyalty, honor, and self-preservation instincts. Oyabun godfather Ishida adheres to old codes even as his old-guard stance risks sinking the Chihara-kai. Anti-hero Sato questions the morality of his criminal violence, yet continually compromises his scruples to protect loved ones now endangered by his choices.
This richness extends to the depiction of actual yakuza traditions – the sake ritual for welcoming parolees, the familial terminology of “older brother”, the tattoos signifying members’ status. Vice utilizes these details not for glamorization but to articulate universal themes about family, legacy, and identity. Befitting a land where history casts a long shadow, the gangs’ generational conflicts highlight tensions between the old world and the inevitable march of change.
Through this complex lens, Tokyo Vice wholly rejects easy heroes and villains; instead living in moral gray zones makes siding with any faction complicated. Who holds the moral high ground grows increasingly less clear. The operators thriving in this uncertainty will determine Tokyo’s future landscape. Place your bets carefully.
Come for the Crime, Stay for the Character Drama
Minor tonal issues aside, Tokyo Vice’s sophomore outing expands its scope without losing the neo noir flair that makes this one of television’s most transportive crime sagas. Leaning into the volatility of Tokyo’s criminal underworld proves a boon, raising both the dramatic stakes and the compelling moral conundrums confronting the show’s increasingly fully-realized characters. From grizzled mentors to idealistic strivers struggling against compromising systems, the ensemble’s nuanced portrayals resonate beyond pulp thrills.
Backed by fully committed performances and top-notch production design steeped in authenticity, season two’s ambitious storytelling further immerses us in an evocative time and place where line between order and chaos blurs nightly. There is still intrigue left to plumb in Tokyo’s endless shadows, but the stage has been set for the endgame.
For noir aficionados or those seeking gritty, brooding dramas about the high cost of loyalty, Tokyo Vice remains utterly binge-worthy television. With expanded depth and white-knuckle tension, this enthralling descent into Tokyo’s criminal inferno shows no signs of creative staleness. We can’t wait to see how much deeper the underworld rabbit hole goes.
Tokyo Vice's superb second season builds out the world and raises the stakes, only occasionally straying into uneven territory. Backed by a breakout ensemble cast and slick neo-noir aesthetics, it remains one of today's most stylish and transportive crime sagas.
- Expanded world and heightened stakes
- Strong performances from ensemble cast
- Authentic sense of time and place
- Stylish neo-noir aesthetic
- Nuanced exploration of criminal underworld
- Captivating gang war storyline
- Occasional unevenness in tone
- Some plotlines detached from main crime narrative