J.T. Rogers and Ansel Elgort interview: ‘Tokyo Vice’
“Tokyo Vice” starts with a cliffhanger. The HBO Max drama’s first episode opens in 2001 just before a tense meeting between American journalist Jake Adelstein (played by Ansel Elgort), Japanese police detective Hiroto Katagiri (Ken Watanabe), and a member of the Yakuza. “We know what you’re investigating,” the man, identified as a top member of the Japanese crime syndicate, tells Adelstein. “Walk away, it will be like it never happened. Publish it? There’s nowhere you can hide.” As Jake ponders the life-or-death offer, the series shifts its focus back to 1999 – and the remainder of the pilot and subsequent episodes stay in that time period as Jake and Katagiri begin to poke at the criminal underbelly of Japan.
“I always knew that we were never gonna get back to that scene until Season 2,” Elgort tells Gold Derby in an exclusive video interview. “It’s awesome that this show has been so well received. So many people in my daily life come up to me and say ‘Tokyo Vice’! But then everyone says, ‘I finished it, though, and we never even got back to the sit down with the Yakuza. What’s going on? We need Season 2.”
Fortunately for fans, future episodes of the show are now official: HBO Max renewed “Tokyo Vice” for a second season on June 7 – meaning the payoff to that opening scene plus numerous other threads left dangling in the breakneck Season 1 finale, will receive proper closure.
“I’m not gonna tell you anything,” creator J.T. Rogers says with a laugh when asked about the second season. “The short answer is, of course, we know what we’re going to do. Absolutely. We’re working on it and we’re very excited. Ansel and I were just texting giddily yesterday. But all I will promise is there are twists and turns in the tale. There will be as many surprises as in Season 2. All the questions and more will be answered. I’m really excited to be back to work on it.”
Based on the nonfiction book by Jake Adelstein and executive produced by Michael Mann, who also directed the pilot, “Tokyo Vice” doesn’t just concern itself with the Yakuza but numerous Japanese institutions and how things function, including a newsroom and police precinct. To prepare for his role, Elgort shadowed Los Angeles Times crime reporter James Queally and also worked with a former journalist turned private investigator to understand the mindset of a journalist. He also met the real Adelstein, even though “Tokyo Vice” is merely inspired by Adelstein’s book and not a factual retelling of his life.
“There are aspects of the real Jake [in the performance], like the fact that he’s a little bit of a hustler,” Elgort says. “I shadowed him while he was writing a real story and I saw how he operated. It was very much like he was bending all the rules. He was getting into rooms that he didn’t really have permission to be in. But he was kind of talking his way in. And that was inspiring.”
In addition to his research, Elgort also spent hours learning how to speak fluent Japanese and becoming bilingual allowed Rogers and the “Tokyo Vice” filmmakers to push the performers out of their natural comfort zones. The relationship between Jake and Katagiri makes up the backbone of the series, and shifts throughout as Jake betrays Katagiri’s trust. Elgort says there was a slight mirror happening on set with Watanabe.
“We would do takes in both English and Japanese. But was what was also interesting is, like you said, the relationship fluctuates,” Elgort says, recalling scenes where Watanabe would suggest Elgort speak his dialogue in English but Elgort would defy the suggestion. “That definitely got a little rise out of him and we ended up using that take in the show. And we’re all good at the end, you know, Ken gives me a little thumbs up and we’re having fun we’re playing. But just having that kind of freedom to play… adds an interesting tension to that relationship.”
All episodes of “Tokyo Vice” are streaming now on HBO Max.