Original HBO Max series by JT Rodgers Tokyo Vice gave fans an addictive and irritating look at the skinny Japanese part of organized crime. It was the showrunner’s first foray into television, and it was a strong start thanks to the story of this crime drama, which diversified its dramatized look at journalist Jake Adelstein’s quest for truth-seeking with even more interesting supporting characters.
All of these different moving parts had something important to ensure the Yakuza’s shadow war in the plot at the root of the conflict. And strange as it may sound on the surface, the views used Tokyo Vice to push history forward, to outline the anatomy of the world of organized crime in Japan, like Sega’s hit Yakuza A series of video games shatters it.
Note: This article discusses spoilers for Tokyo Vice on HBO Max.
Through the prism of moral patterns and morally contradictory
Comparisons between the HBO series Tokyo Vice and Sega’s action adventure Yakuza it can be particularly irritating, given the duality of the latter in tone and atmosphere. Yakuza games, whether it’s the six-game saga of Kazuma Kiryu – and numerous more remakes – or the recent soft reboot with Like a dragonthe series has always been a two-story tale.
On the one hand, you have a cinematic basic story, similar to a soap opera, which is emotionally serious and describes Kiryu’s battle for justice and the soul of the city of Kamurocho against his former Yakuza chiefs. On the other hand, you have extraordinary camp missions that involve Kiryu training a professional dominatrix to gain his trust or play karaoke rhythm games through his imagination and Goro Majima as a hard rock band of the 90’s or colorful J-Pop group.
Certainly not a knock Yakuza, as this definite tonal dichotomy has always been part of the irresistible charm of the series and a great way to break the immersive melodrama of the main story. But the dramatic half of Yakuza with Kiryu still draws some parallels with the criminal noir of Tokyo Vice and how he uses Sato in the underworld as a valid point of view. That is, although the former is portrayed as a moral model, the latter is very psychologically contradictory and morally ambiguous.
When Sato is introduced to the show, the audience is already being signaled that he still feels like a contender trying to convince his superiors of his place in Hitoshi Ishida’s piece of yakuza – and the confirmation of his gun brother Yoshihiro Kume. Sato is blamed for each of his mistakes, and his shaky confidence is obvious on screen. This uncertainty and inner turmoil spills over into scenes as subtle as a failure to impress some children in the local arcade from which he raises money for protection, or tangible ones such as Ishida, who demands Sato kill Kume after discovering that the latter is plant for ruthless yakuza rival Shinzo Tozawa.
Meanwhile, when Kiryu is shown to us in his heyday, which is most of his life, the Dojima Dragon is presented as a shining example of community. It is almost like Camurocho’s fictional Superman city, essentially a smaller-scale arbiter of “truth, justice, and a better tomorrow,” complemented by a Batman-like “rule of no killing” and a noble stance on redemption. It doesn’t matter that players can beat thugs with bicycles, trash cans, sofas and just about anything Kiriu can get around.
However, in Yakuza 0 the prehistory of the game, Kiryu’s origins show him a little harsher and a little more insecure. Like Sato, Kiryu was introduced to the yakuza by a senior who lifted him by the neck with the promise of a better life if he could bear the brunt of the organization.
But even that, along with his image of the Yakuza, began to disintegrate after being thrown into the middle of a conspiracy by the underworld and a series of power struggles. Thoughtful and gloomy as Tokyo ViceSato is, especially compared to the stable and stoic Kiryu, Sato never seems to fully comply with the brutality of the yakuza, no matter how much he wants to be.
To varying degrees, both Yakuza and Tokyo Vice start by showing the audience a romanticized version of what the yakuza represents through the lens of Kiryu and Sato, respectively. DeputyIshida claims to be firmly in control of the “code of honor” of the classical yakuza. And while Yakuza in fact, it retains a somewhat rosy depiction of the underworld, using someone as heroic as Kiryu, and both images are deconstructed as these characters go through their story arcs.
And it is through these deconstructions that both series clarify the cruel bureaucracy and hierarchy of the yakuza. Kiryu sees the Yakuza’s corrupt entanglements as he breaks ties – or at least as far as he can – with the sprawling basic history of the various moving parts that make up these organizations.
Tokyo Vice shows a much more strictly scaled-up story than it should be as a crime-noir series, but Sato is the character who helps the audience get deeper behind the shadowy veil that the yakuza creates for themselves. Even the thin lining of perceived romanticism that the “classical” Yakuza like Ishida keep to themselves is caused by the impending threat posed by the aforementioned and younger Tozawa.
These messy, tangled Yakuza nets, in which Sato and Kiriu find themselves connected to something Detective Hitoro Katagiri warned Jake about at the beginning. Tokyo Vice. Whether it started out as a favor, professional courtesy, or recruitment, you can never really get out of organized crime life once you’ve sunk deep enough.
All episodes of Tokyo Vice are available for streaming now on HBO Max.
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