The HBO Max series Deputy Tokyo is a project that has been in the works for nearly a decade, originally announced as a film featuring Harry Potter franchise star Daniel Radcliffe, then later repositioned as a TV series with Heat director Michael Mann attached and baby driver actor Ansel Elgort in the lead role. It finally arrives on April 7 after several years of intermittent production due to the pandemic and the complicated logistics of international shoots.
While such long periods of development and production can often be a sign of trouble, anyone who has been looking forward to the series can rest easy: the first five episodes suggest that the extra time needed to bring it to the screen has been fine. spent.
A loose adaptation of Jake Adelstein’s 2009 memoir Tokyo Vice: an American journalist on the rhythm of the police in Japan, the series features Elgort as Adelstein, an American living in Tokyo who sets out to become the first foreign-born journalist to work for Japan’s largest newspaper. After earning a place on the newspaper’s staff, he soon finds himself navigating both the rigid institutional rules of Japanese media and culture and the murky relationship between the police, criminal organizations and journalists.
Award-winning playwright JT Rogers adapted Adelstein’s novel for the series, which offers a scripted, moody adventure through late 1990s Tokyo filled with host clubs, small bars, crowded streets and train stations. , noisy dance clubs and colorful crowded venues. bustling alleys with people buying and selling around every corner. Deputy Tokyo takes Adelstein from the aforementioned hustle and bustle of the streets and clubs of Tokyo to the crowded office buildings, police stations and immaculate corporate offices used by both corporate bosses and powerful yakuza crime bosses who fight for control of the city.
Oscar nominee Ken Watanabe (The last Samourai) portrays Hiroto Katagiri, a veteran detective who teaches Adelstein about the complicated relationship between the yakuza and the police necessary to keep the peace in the city, while Legion actress Rachel Keller plays Samantha, an American expat working as a hostess in Tokyo’s bustling Kabukicho district. Shō Kasamatsu also plays a key role in the series as Sato, a young yakuza whose trajectory in the organization intersects with the lives of Adelstein and Samantha.
The first five episodes of Deputy Tokyo cover a lot of ground, chronicling Adelstein’s efforts to acclimate to Japanese culture and earn a job as a reporter for the fictional newspaper that serves as a stand-in for real-world publication Yomiuri Shimbun, the newspaper where the real Adelstein worked. During the first half of the season, Adelstein is hired as a crime reporter and soon finds himself embroiled in the investigation of several cases involving the underworld, while making powerful allies and enemies throughout the city.
While Mann is directing the first episode of the series, Josef Kubota Wladyka is directing all subsequent episodes, with Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings with director Destin Daniel Cretton producing and Rogers writing the scripts for the premiere and finale. The series’ creative team does a terrific job of keeping the tension high throughout the series, blending both the inherently fast pace of life in Tokyo with the demands of Adelstein’s professional life and the forces that conspire. around him. Adelstein’s activities are frequently juxtaposed with those of Sato, who also faces increasing pressure within his yakuza “family” as rival interests vie for power within the syndicate. The arcs followed by the two characters are fascinating and complex, and like so many of Mann’s projects, the main characters of Deputy Tokyo often share more than a little in common, regardless of which side of the law they operate on.
As Adelstein, Elgort is brimming with energy and idealism, and his performance effectively communicates the enormous ups and downs of his experience, which often walks a fine line between stubborn journalism and ambitious recklessness. You can’t help but cheer him on, but it feels like Adelstein’s flame is burning a little too bright, and the intensity that Elgort brings to the character jumps off the screen.
As Sato, Kasamatsu delivers one of the show’s most complicated characters and a performance that proves as effective with quiet moments and carefully chosen words as Elgort’s frenetic portrayal of Adelstein. Where Adelstein moves through the story, moving from experience to experience, Sato’s arc is an equally engrossing slow burn, and he quickly becomes one of the show’s most compelling characters.
Watanabe and Keller also add additional and compelling layers to the story that unfolds in Deputy Tokyo, as they each find themselves grappling with vastly different moral dilemmas that shape not only their own lives, but also those of Adelstein, Sato, and everyone else whose paths they cross. It’s no surprise for Watanabe, who brings gravitas to every role he plays, but Keller’s portrayal of Samantha is just as important and intriguing as the mysteries surrounding her character’s background and aspirations are slowly unfolding. explored.
In a supporting role, Oscar nominee Rinko Kikuchi stands out as Eimi, Adelstein’s supervisor at the newspaper who faces her own set of obstacles as a professional woman working in Japan’s patriarchal business world. While her story never gets too much of the show’s attention, Kikuchi makes good use of the limited screen time her character enjoys with a compelling performance.
Mann and Cretton also manage to fill nearly every moment of Deputy Tokyo with the presence of the city in one form or another. Whether the characters are strolling down a busy street in one of Tokyo’s business districts, down a neon-lit alleyway in Kabuchiko, sipping tea in a secluded garden, or toasting their evening in a small pub or a bustling host club, the energy and tone of the region is woven into every scene of Deputy Tokyo. Anyone who’s spent time in Tokyo will likely attest to the wide range of experiences it offers the average person, and the series does an impressive job of making all those settings that the characters and the moments they experience go through all feel like single pieces of the same puzzle.
In fact, if there is a gap to be found in Deputy Tokyo, it is the will of the series to be a little too accommodating with its American public. Much of the series’ dialogue is in Japanese with English subtitles, which makes the show feel really embedded in the city that plays such a big part in its story. Adelstein (and Samantha de Keller, for that matter) are rarely seen as anything more than outsiders in Tokyo, so it’s only fitting that we hear their experiences and conversations unfold in Japanese. That the show shifts a little too freely to English dialogue — and often for no plot-related reason — tends to take you out of the moment (and out of town).
Beautifully shot and impeccably performed by everyone involved in its production, Deputy Tokyo is a riveting and compelling series that, like the streets of its titular city, holds plenty of surprises around every corner.
The first three episodes of Deputy Tokyo airs April 7 on HBO Max.