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‘Tokyo Vice’: Everything to Know About the HBO Max Drama

It's been seven years since Michael Mann last directed something. Soon audiences will get an opportunity to see what he's been up to.

Ansel Elgort, Ken Watanabe

“Tokyo Vice”

HBO Max

It has been seven years since Michael Mann, acclaimed director of “Heat” and “The Insider,” last directed something and soon audiences will get an opportunity to see what he’s been up to. “Tokyo Vice” has been a series long in development, with initial reports stating that “Harry Potter” lead Daniel Radcliffe would be starring in an adaptation of Jake Adelstein’s 2009 nonfiction book “Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan” back in 2013. The hope was that it would be a feature film. Though that version of the story never came to fruition audiences will still see Adlestein’s story play out.

Now, after a brief hiatus due to the global pandemic, the series is back on track and set to star Ansel Elgort and Ken Watanabe. Based on the first trailer, it certainly looks like we’re about to enter Michael Mann’s world. It will certainly be interesting to see how audiences react to the show, especially considering both Elgort and Mann are controversial figures in the entertainment industry for different reasons. The crime drama series, filmed on location in Tokyo, captures Adelstein’s descent into the neon underbelly of Tokyo in the late 1990s, where allegiances are constantly shifting and no one is to be trusted.

IndieWire has compiled and answered all your burning questions to give audiences everything they need to know about “Tokyo Vice,” coming April 7 to HBO Max.

1. What is “Tokyo Vice” about?

“Tokyo Vice” is based on investigative journalist Jake Adelstein’s 2009 memoir, “Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan.” In the book, Adelstein recounted his time as the first non-Japanese reporter to work for Yomiuri Shimbun, one of Japan’s largest newspapers. As the only American on the crime beat at the paper, Adelstein eventually embeds himself within the Tokyo Vice police squad in order to reveal corruption.

In a 2009 interview to mark the release of his book, Adelstein discussed the challenges of being an American reporter in Japan. “Japan is actually more open than people give it credit for. However, to get the door open, you really need to become fluent in the spoken and written language. The written language was a nightmare for me,” he said. “It was mostly an advantage to be a foreigner—it made me memorable. The yakuza are outsiders in Japanese society, and perhaps being a fellow outsider gave us a weird kind of bond. The cops investigating the yakuza also tend to be oddballs. I was mentored into an early understanding and appreciation of the code of both the yakuza and the cops. Reciprocity and honor are essential components for both.”

2. Who stars in “Tokyo Vice”?

The cast includes Academy Award nominees Ken Watanabe, Ansel Elgort, Rinko Kikuchi, plus Rachel Keller, Ella Rumpf, Hideaki Ito, Show Kasamatsu, and Tomohisa Yamashita.

Mann has praised Elgort in particular in an interview with Deadline. “His character’s determination is to become a reporter in a very different culture…and at the same time, he’s got an American impetuosity that he has a difficulty restraining,” Mann said of his lead. “That native impulse both services and disservices him. The locals in his neighborhood know him. He’s embedded there. Everywhere else, he’s a gaijin, he’s an outsider, in a society that’s not necessarily tolerant. I’m thrilled with what I’m seeing. It’s a very immersive piece of work he’s doing. That’s what I wanted from him, and it’s certainly what he’s done.”

3. How is Michael Mann involved?

The godfather of “Miami Vice” — both the hit ‘80s series, where he served as executive producer, and his 2006 feature film adaptation starring Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx — Michael Mann serves as both director of the pilot and an executive producer of the series. J.T. Rogers created and wrote the series and also serves as executive producer. The series comes from Endeavor Content and WOWOW, Japan’s leading premium pay TV broadcaster

4. How many episodes are there?

The first season of “Tokyo Vice” will consist of 10 episodes.

5. Did the series actually film on location?

Yes, despite COVID raging around the world, Mann and company were able to shoot the series in Japan. In a 2020 interview with Deadline Mann discussed working in the country. “Yeah, it’s very difficult, and unusual in our circumstances. When we decided to leave, I had shot six of 18 days, and the conditions in Japan were vastly superior to the conditions here,” he said.

This is not the first time a Mann production has been affected by global events. “That was during the shooting of Miami Vice, the movie. I agreed to delay the production till the summer. I knew we were heading into the hurricane season, on the basis that they had to cover us, meaning the studio, if we ran into anything north of a tropical storm. And of course, we ran into the worst hurricane season in the North Atlantic in the last 100 years,” Mann told Deadline.

6. Where can I watch “Tokyo Vice?”

The first three episodes of “Tokyo Vice” will stream on HBO Max starting April 7. From there two episodes will drop weekly till the finale on April 28.

You can watch the full trailer for the series below.

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