Content warning: mentions of suicide.
Characterized by shocking betrayals and botched assassination attempts, the darker, second half of “Tokyo Vice” paints an action-packed, visceral portrait of Adelstein’s venture through the criminal underworld, making for a gripping and engrossing watch and commendable conclusion to the first season. With Tokyo’s festering underbelly now completely exposed, characters’ true allegiances are challenged, the yakuza’s wrath slowly consumes all, and a single question fades into the forefront of everyone’s minds:
“How far are we willing to go to achieve what we want?”
Emphasized by artful cinematography, “Tokyo Vice” explores the fundamental conflict of morality and desire as the characters’ pursuit for justice morphs into something more gritty and morbid than they could ever have imagined. As the rabbit hole of materialistic want expands, even those made victims of such desires are now undoubtedly forced to dirty their hands in the dark whirlpool that is Tokyo’s crime ring. Unable to escape her past, a private investigator blackmails hostess Samantha Porter (Rachel Keller) into sleeping with him or face the consequences for her theft of 4 million yen. She chooses the former, despite being absolutely repulsed by the investigator. The morbid complexity of their relationship that plays on complicated motives effectively captivates the watcher’s interest despite the disgusting premise; the show explores this more problematic content in a nuanced, tactful way that reflects the unfortunate horrors of reality.
Plot-wise, the second half of “Tokyo Vice” does a much better job of avoiding tropes than the first. Surprisingly enough, the carefully planned double-betrayal that miraculously brings down the antagonistic Tozawa gang is not followed up by an easy, cliché resolution. Instead, the show mercilessly pummels the watcher with tragedy after tragedy; Adelstein is brutally attacked in his own home, Sato is suddenly stabbed when walking to his car, and detective Katagiri’s two children are threatened to be murdered—as the stakes rise without warning, the show doesn’t hesitate to visualize a tragic end to many of its innocent characters. This omnipresent, uneasy suspense erratically explodes with every sudden ambush and shocking reveal, keeping audiences hooked for more.
The true stars of “Tokyo Vice” are its supporting characters, whose moral and emotional complexities are further explored in the show’s latter half. Young yakuza enforcer Sato is initially portrayed as stone-faced and unapproachable, but when his mentor Yoshihiro Kume is outed as a traitor, complex feelings start to bubble up from within. He is revealed to be troubled by the life that he currently leads, consumed by fear that he might grow to be as corrupt as the person that he once looked up to. Unable to leave Ishida’s gang himself, Sato coldly kicks out a failing new recruit despite the youngster’s protests—a further demonstration that his actions are not always as simple as they look. Behind this seemingly rude interaction is Sato’s desire to protect others from the cycle of crime that he is stuck in forever. The yakuza’s suffocating hold on gangsters like Sato showcase the vicious cycle of toxic, power-hungry organizations as an important allegory to the numerous stifling societal constructs today, crime-related or not.
Though Adelstein’s character is still somewhat cookie-cutter, his development definitely gets more rounded out in the show’s later episodes, with his actions raising difficult moral questions for watchers to ponder. In his passionate yet rash pursuit of truth, he interrogates a banker and reveals a conspiracy between a suspicious loan firm and the Tozawa gang. However, this indirectly causes the banker, who cannot incriminate Tozawa, to commit suicide. The guilt from such incidents causes significant internal turmoil for Adelstein; this is epitomized by a scene where, high on crystal meth and stripped of his usual filters, Adelstein hopelessly utters, “What’s the point of all this?” So far, his righteous intentions have only led to the death of innocents, dangerously jeopardizing the tenuous peace between gangs, and endangering himself. The way forward is now unclear, unlike the first half of the show where Adelstein’s goal was simply to find the truth, building key tension and uncertainty that invigorates the show.
Yet rare and golden moments of hope shine through in the otherwise desolate tone, just enough to keep the show from being excessively despairing (but not too much as to be cliché). An example is when Adelstein’s boss, Emi Maruyama (Rinko Kikuchi), implores Adelstein to keep seeking the truth when he’s giving up, telling him, “Someone needs to build the wall of truth, brick by brick, until the facts cannot be ignored.”
Good intentions create disastrous ramifications and evil intentions are magnified tenfold in “Tokyo Vice’s” harrowing tale of city corruption, offering a curious introspective critique of human nature. All in all, the second half of “Tokyo Vice” earns a full five stars for its thought-provoking plot enriched by emotionally and morally complex characters.