“Tokyo Vice” Season 1, Episode 4 and Episode 5 Recap

In the concluding minutes of “Read the Air,” we last saw Jake Adelstein in the custody of the yakuza, presumably set to break through the next barrier and come closer to the truth. We also left Sato at a fork in the road, in hot water with Hitoshi Ishida (Shun Sugata), the Chihara-kai crime family’s leader, for brutally beating up a fellow yakuza, and offering up a hot tip that will hopefully prove his loyalty.

Jake is the source of that tip, and his proximity to the cops makes him an asset rather than a threat for the time being. Both of our heroes are still on the outside of a complicated system, but by the end of episode five, “Everybody Pays,” they’ll have figured out how to get in. New threats come in the guise of old opponents, and the past resurfaces in the form of new foes as doors open and close.

I want it that way

Jake arrives at a beautiful goddamned house surrounded by the darkest forest you’ve ever seen. I’m telling you, those Japanese woodlands. You’re thinking the same thing when Jake walks into the scene, whispering “shiiiit.” It turns out that this is Ishida’s home, and he’s asked Jake to help him out.

Our oyabun is in a pickle, as he is on the receiving end of a report that he is bribing cops. When he gives tea to visiting police officers in his office, they refuse to drink it for fear of appearing to be on the take. Meanwhile, Ishida’s men notice that the cops refuse tea and begin to suspect that their boss is a spy. Ishida tells Jake, “Neither is true, but the perception is undeniable.” What if people’s perceptions don’t change? “My guys will soon force me to dig my own grave and shoot me in the head.”

“That’s a tough place,” Jake says, still keeping his calm in the face of this tough yakuza boss (must say, Elgort’s Sonny Crockett–ass energy is kicking in now). When Ishida begs him to urge his “connected police pals” to uncover the rumor source, he accepts with grace and expresses his “undying thanks.”

Cut to the journey home, with only Jake in the back seat and Sato behind the wheel blasting Backstreet Boys on the stereo. The bromance between these two space cowboys begins in earnest at this point. “I Want It That Way” blasts through the speakers after a brief squabble in which Sato discloses he told Ishida about Jake, and Sato just starts belting it out without reservation. This is king trash. Jake is amused but visibly man-crushing hard on Sato right now, which inevitably leads to a debate about how “I Want It That Way” is about wanting it that way, like fucking? Jake and Sato are young and restless, but they’re even more confident now that they’ve taken their first step together from flailing beginners to the smooth operator in this complicated system.

… Why don’t you tell me why-ee? Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. In any case, Hikari, a relative rookie and formidable craftswoman for television’s ever-expanding narrative structure, directed these episodes. Hikari fosters a marked sea change in the story thus far, especially in comparison to the shift from Michael Mann’s pilot to Josef Kubota Wladyka’s second and third episodes, with a unique combination of economical, fluid shots and tight, dynamic framing that both wrangle and thriller-ize the material, and an indescribably warmer handle on the characters and performances. Hikari, like our iconoclastic operators in the show, picks up the trail left in her wake and forges her own stylistic route.

It works well for the most part, even in sections where you can feel the effort of shifting hands. For example, the newsroom scenes at Meicho Shimbun seem to be in a different location than what we’ve seen in prior episodes. But Hikari does a terrific job at the workplace establishing up a warmer group dynamic between Jake, his pals “Trendy” (Takaki Ud) and “Tin Tin” (Kosuke Tanaka), and the editor Eimi, who this time around really blasts off with investigative chutzpah. Now that the information and proof are starting to coalesce, she begins to take a serious interest in Jake’s connected suicide narrative in an All the President’s Men-style scenario. She recalls another story about suicide with identical facts and invites Jake to accompany her to the widower of the suicide victim. Eimi is able to exhibit adequate empathy and develop an almost familial connection with this sad topic, showing that they’re not just both Korean but that Eimi’s family is from the same area as his wife. She’s unlocking doors that Jake hasn’t been able to open, and their Woodward-and-Bernstein dynamic adds a delightful new depth to our research.

Jake joins Eimi to the unknown loan company after obtaining the address but waits outside while Eimi pretends to be urgent for a loan with an employee inside. He says, “You’ve arrived to the correct location.” “No one is turned away.” This stooge hook, line, and sinker delivers Eimi a stack of paperwork to sign, which turns out to be the key to the entire nefarious scheme. This company, you see, gets people to buy life insurance policies, name the credit company as a beneficiary, and then pursue the indebted until they die and the policies are paid off. Jake understands, “Jesus, they found a method to monetize suicide.” “That’s pretty fucking wicked, even for yakuza.”

While busting heads, taking names and hobnobbing with various bosses, Katagiri is up to his normal badassery on the police front, delivering insightful advice in between busting heads, takin’ names, and hobnobbing with other bosses. He’s questioning a yakuza from Tozawa’s gang, implicitly implying that the Ishida story wouldn’t hold much weight coming from an adversary. “However, if it originated from within the Chihara-kai, it’s a different issue, implying that your boss managed to turn someone in Ishida’s camp.” Off-screen, Katagiri learns the identity of the mole, who turns out to be Sato’s mentor, Kume (Masayoshi Haneda).

When Jake confronts Tozawa at that nice restaurant, it’s fairly wild — true-blue, guns-blazin’, American crap, am I right? After his, eh, interesting night out with Sato (who is clearly not delighted to be in Jake’s company for this exchange), I’m surprised he had the energy for it. He confronts him and calls him a thug, handing him his card and everything, giving him vintage Bond feelings. Tozawa, on the other hand, claps back, as one might expect: “Reporters here aren’t usually widely regarded.” You’ll find out soon enough. “Especially if they’re good at what they do.” A man who doesn’t have enemies isn’t a man at all.

I know what you’re thinking, but don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about Samantha, whose entire journey unfolds in these episodes in ways I could never have expected but should have known would be so, well, intimately my shit, given how much I liked her from the start. Our heroine is scoping out new digs for her upcoming club at the start of “I Want It That Way,” and when word comes out about her plan, her boss, Duke, is furious. Sato pays her a visit after being urged by Kume to give her a hard time and keep her in line, to which she responds, “Don’t even dare to threaten me, asshole.” I admire Samantha’s posture when confronted by her rival masters, clapping back with equal force and boldness. Feels like James Caan in Thief. (Yes, I’m still keeping track of all the Michael Mann–isms in this show because that’s what you get when you work to the beat of vaporwave playlists by day then get high and watch Thief, Manhunter, Miami Vice, and Collateral by night.)

When a dinner with a client goes sour, the heat becomes too much for Samantha. This guy hits her with a bunch of personal information at some point during the talk, then discloses he’s a private investigator who has tracked her down. Samantha finally asks, “What do you want?” after some argumentative back-and-forth. He says that they’ll deal with it later. “Think about all you stand to lose here and pick the right, as your people would say.”

Everyone has to pay

See, your humble recapper was born and reared in Utah (with my own CTR ring and “Called to Serve” notebook), and I also served on a mission before quitting. I served in Germany, immersed myself in a different world, learned a new language, and came away with the impression that the country had changed me far more than I could have changed it. It didn’t take me long to return to study abroad in Berlin, where I spent far more time in pubs, clubs, and artists’ hangouts than in class. And, like Samantha, I have a strong sense of tenuous control over the life I’ve carved out for myself since leaving the religion. “I adore it here,” she says Pollina, a fellow hostess, and confidante. “I don’t want to lose all I’ve worked so hard for.” This is something I created. This is my name. I’m afraid I won’t be able to return.” Granted, I didn’t steal 40 grand from the church before leaving, but I understand the temptation. Unfortunately, it appears that this private-investigator gentleman isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and it appears that he’s trying to demand sexual favors from Samantha? Someone needs to tamper with this guy.

Back on the mole hunt, Jake and Katagiri meet at the park for one of their meetings (I love the heartwarming, familial buddy-cop dynamic forming between them). Katagiri gives Jake the information that leads to Kume (I didn’t see that coming) and gives him some fatherly counsel on how to deal with Ishida. “When you take yakuza favors, you open a door.” It is extremely difficult to close after it has been opened. “Lie down with the dogs and wake with the fleas.”

Jake, on the other hand, is still anxious for knowledge, so when it’s time to pass up the mole expose to Ishida, he can’t help but inquire about the loan company in return. Ishida declares, “This is not Chihara-kai.” “We’re in the loan industry,” says the narrator. All of the main yakuza are present. But this is hardly the holy path: driving clients to commit suicide in order to obtain insurance claims. Jake should look for the people who didn’t offer the loans, not the people who did, Ishida suggests, in order to figure out who they are.

On the basis of that information, Jake discovers that each of the suicide victims’ families went to the same genuine lending company and were then referred to the bad one. “Chase it,” Eimi says, and he does just that. Jake goes up for his meeting with this jerk from the legitimate lending company to find that he recognizes his interlocutor from his encounter with Tozawa. Jake poses as a green American journalist with limited Japanese and inquires about the suicide victims, eventually revealing what he knows. Jake explains, “Your discerning bank rejected these people down for loans here and directed them away, to this place.” “With or without your support, I’m going to write this story.” I’ll leave you out of it if you give me Tozawa.”

So this person verifies everything, that he was the one who funneled clients to the predatory lender and that there was yakuza involvement, all off the record because he has wire transactions implicating Tozawa. Unfortunately, Jake never receives the wire transfers because the lender, at Tozawa’s request, kills himself and accepts responsibility for the entire situation. Katagiri will later tell Jake, “The banker, he dug his own grave.” Jake is enraged by the fact that he is responsible, therefore, on Katagiri’s advice, he gets drunk and aggressive with Samantha in the club when she isn’t paying attention to his sob story. She’s got her own issues to deal with.

But, hey, she and Sato reconcile and eventually bang, which is fantastic. Sato is also in a tough place, having just seen his friend Kume jump off a goddamned skyscraper in a wild admission that he is the mole. In their final confrontation, Kume tells Ishida, “You’re so anxious to keep what’s yours; you’ve lost sight of the future.” “While Tozawa innovates, you cling to worthless traditions!” “Pushes the envelope!” How are they going to subsist if Chihara-kai refuses to sell drugs? Ishida, on the other hand, isn’t buying it and gives his gun to Sato to finish off his treacherous mentor. Kume absolves Sato of his responsibility by leaping from the roof. Ishida gives him an ultimatum after being dissatisfied with his performance. “Are you a Chihara-kai member or not?” It’s entirely up to you. Sato will tell Samantha later in their postcoital heart-to-heart that he lost a friend that day. “I know I’m not like him, but I’m worried if I keep acting like this, I’ll end up like him.” Samantha hasn’t felt a living connection like this with Sato since those ephemeral moments of spiritual joy at church. “Change your life if you want to change your life.” I made mistakes, yet I was able to break free from my prison. “You can do it, too.”

We come to a close with a fantastic action sequence, the first of the series. Sato arrives at Ishida’s residence to discover it under siege. Our hero battles valiantly and saves Ishida’s life, ending the episode with a bang rather than a whisper, which I guess means we can put Sato’s loyalties to rest… for now.

“Tokyo Vice” Season 1, Episode 1, Episode 2 and Episode 3 Recap