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‘Tokyo Vice’ Showrunner Breaks Down Season 2 Finale, Teases Potential Season 3

Warner Bros. Discovery

Note: The following contains spoilers for the “Tokyo Vice” Season 2 finale.

“Tokyo Vice” Season 2 concludes in Episode 10, “Endgame,” with what could be seen as a happier ending than you might expect from the Yakuza crime thriller, based on journalist Jake Adelstein’s memoir exploring his time covering the police beat in Japan. But while several storylines reach satisfying resolutions in the finale, creator and showrunner J.T. Rogers and the rest of the show’s creative team have left doors open for a Season 3 of the show — if it gets renewed.

Rogers and director/executive producer Alan Poul spoke with TheWrap about the finale and what comes next.

Detective Katagiri: “The right choice is not the moral choice”

The characters are pushed to make devastating choices in the finale, with Detective Katagiri (Ken Watanabe) compromising his allegiance to the law in order to achieve justice. After sending Yakuza crime boss Shinzo Tozawa (Ayumi Tanida) to his likely death, he tells a surprised Jake (Ansel Elgort), “There are times when the right choice is not the moral choice.”

Katagiri explains that he felt there were no other options to successfully bring Tozawa down. That includes faulting Jake’s work at the newspaper and not exposing Tozawa.

While Rogers and Poul were quick to emphasize that this is a fictional show, it’s inspired by real elements — including a real-life Yakuza boss represented by Tozawa. The actual figure was Tadamasa Goto, who flew to the U.S. for a life-saving liver operation — which the U.S. government arranged in exchange for Goto’s cooperation with the FBI.

Poul noted that breaking the news of that story put the real Adelstein on the map.

“[Adelstein] had the goods and he figured out about the liver transplant, and he was ready to break the story, and his paper would not run it,” Poul said. “It just seemed like censorship, outrage, craven cowardice or bowing to the Yakuza or whatever. And then he did an endrun and had it published in the Los Angeles Times.”

Journalistic ethics

Newspaper executive Ozaki (Bokuzō Masana) reveals in the finale that he was the one who burned the video that showed the Season 1 murder of Polina, a friend of Jake and Samantha (Rachel Keller). Jake was sent the video and stored it for safety in the paper’s offices while he kept reporting, but a fire destroyed the key piece of evidence.

Ozaki tells Jake’s supervisor Emi (Rinko Kikuchi) that he had to look out for the larger interests of the paper and preserving its access to government sources, which would have been damaged due to how the video implicated important officials. Similarly to the real Adelstein’s actions, Emi opts to publish the full story in an outside magazine. She ultimately leaves the show’s newspaper to continue working for the outside outlet.

“When Ozaki gives that speech, what you’re really getting is the other side of that decision,” Poul said. “Which is what I need to remain effective and in the game as a newspaper — and that means that I can only alienate my sources and the levers of power to a certain extent.”

“What I’m always looking for in the writing is, where do we get an argument where it’s two rights and not a right and wrong?” Rogers said. Speaking of Ozaki and Emi’s differing perspectives, he added, “He’s right. And she’s right. And it doesn’t mean we have to agree or say that we would do the same thing, but then you have to say, well, what would I do?”

Leaving Tozawa to Sato

In the Season 2 finale, Sato, who lives in the ethical gray areas of the show’s protagonists, is part of dispensing justice to Tozawa — with Katagiri’s blessing.

“He’s the sort of classic tragic figure in the series,” Rogers said of Sato. “He’s incredibly good at something he’s not sure, he’s ambivalent about. He has a bit of Hamlet-ness.”

“There’s an ethical guideline for the show,” he added, with “people struggling to do what I always talk about with the writers’ room — the tragic view of history, if I may, which is: When you have nothing but bad choices, which is the least bad choice to make?”

“Tokyo Vice” Season 3

While the show has yet to receive a third season pickup, there has been strong interest in Japanese-set programming recently — including both “Tokyo Vice” and the recent “Shōgun” from FX, according to data from TheWrap’s partners Parrot Analytics. But when asked if he had a project he wanted to pursue next drawing on that interest, Rogers responded, “Yeah, it’s called Season 3 of ‘Tokyo Vice.'”

Rogers noted that he’s started to build out that third season, both in his head and on paper, but “we’ll get to see if we get to make it.”

One of the key storylines that gets left open to potentially follow in a third season is Tozawa’s widow, who goes into business with Jake’s friend Samantha — and gives Jake a stern warning. Poul hopes that moment clicks with viewers.

“The last reveal, which is Mrs. Tozawa turning to Jake and saying, ‘I’m the one that sent you that f–king tape!'” Poul said, laughing. “I hope that came as a big surprise … But then also, once you hear that, there’s a slight retroactive feeling of a lot of pieces falling into place.”

He explained that this is where the audience realizes that she’s been trying to take her husband down since Season 1, but Jake didn’t end up publishing a story using that tape before it was burned.

“If Jake had not let the tape out of his hands that easily, maybe it would have happened [sooner],” Poul said.

She then makes clear that she’s not going to forget this failure on Jake’s part.

“I don’t want to give ideas away yet for Season 3 that we haven’t — we’re not set yet. We’re waiting to find out if we could do it,” Rogers said.

“The characters that are with us, I love them all,” he added, though he said there are other characters waiting to fill in this world. Rogers also promised to continue exploring “complicated moral themes.”

“For better and worse, that’s how I roll,” the show creator said. “How does power corrupt both those who wield it and those it’s wielded against? And what does it mean to get what you want and be not sure if you want it?”

“More goodness to come, fingers crossed,” Rogers answered.

Poul noted, “Obviously, this has been a big homecoming for me, because I had started my career in Japan and then sort of very consciously separated myself from the country in terms of filmmaking for 25 years. And now I’ve come back, and so I will keep my hand in — I’ve got a couple of other projects in development that will be based in Japan.”

Japan’s resurgence in American pop culture

Poul explained that the West has long been fascinated by Japan — but that it has traditionally been tinged with exoticism, pointing to traditional depictions of aspects of the culture such as samurai, geisha and other tropes.

“With the turnover of generations, there’s been a huge rebound in interest in Japan,” Poul said. “It’s based in manga, anime and games. I mean, I know so many young people, high schoolers, who are obsessed with Japan now.”

He noted that “Tokyo Vice” was the first Western show to shoot entirely in and around Tokyo, joking about the more traditional approach being to shoot on sets in Vancouver, Canada.

“Because we got it done, there’s now a huge surge of interest level of people who have wanted to do it and have always been warned by saying Tokyo is impossible,” Poul said. He teased that, from working on the ground, he knows that there are other shoots in Japan from different projects coming up.

Empowering women in a culturally and era-appropriate way

Rogers explained that he wanted to further empower the show’s female characters in Season 2. One of the ways the show did that was the introduction of Detective Nagata (Miki Maya), who serves as a catalyst for Katagiri to stretch the boundaries of the law in order to take down Tozawa.

The character is a “badass, complicated female,” Rogers said, “someone who’d go toe-to-toe with Katagiri and Ken Watanabe.” He added that he “hadn’t seen that before — you know, not as romantic foil, not as a traitor, not as a spy, but as just someone as driven as, frankly, the male leads in the show.”

“She is a genuinely original character,” Poul said. “There’s a particular pride in having been able to push up against the glass ceiling in a way that doesn’t feel like a fabrication, but might not have happened as organically in a Japanese program.”

The show’s female lead, Samantha, ends Season 2 set to spend some time away from Tokyo ahead of her new business venture. While the obvious move may have been for Jake and Samantha to have a larger romantic storyline, Rogers said that he didn’t think it was necessary for their storylines — or for those of any of the show’s central women.

“I’m a big believer that a little bit of violence, a little bit of sex goes a lot farther than a lot of violence and a lot of sex,” Rogers said. “Not an original idea, but yeah, it just makes it meaningful. Every death in the show has meaning. Every act of eroticism has meaning, so that they’re character-driven, not just bang bang, shoot shoot, kiss kiss.”

The real Jake Adelstein and sticking to the plan

Rogers has known the real Adelstein since childhood, using him as a resource in constructing the series along with other journalism consultants.

“He and others would say, ‘I want this to happen,'” Rogers explained. “Then I’ll get up and say, ‘Walk me through, what would be the ethical argument when you were a journalist at the paper at this time?’ Now, I’m going to fictionalize and change it, but you want everything to be rooted in the real.”

The show initially received a two-season pickup, which allowed the creators to outline an arc that lasted over both installments of the series. It ended up being about 80% similar to what Rogers initially imagined, he shared, noting that the 20% that changed came from discoveries made with the actors in production.

“One of the writers, producers would say, ‘J.T., you know, we don’t have a scene between person A and B,'” Rogers said, to which he’d respond, “‘What a great idea. OK, go write me a draft, give it to me tomorrow, and I’ll do a pass.'”

You can see how the show landed this initial two-season arc in the Season 2 finale of “Tokyo Vice,” available now on Max.

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