Tokyo Vice Stars and Execs Discuss Season 2

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Summary

  • Season two of Tokyo Vice is the climax of the story, with the first episode serving as the climax of season one.
  • Expect gripping action, high tension, and moral questions for the main characters in season two.
  • Show Kasamatsu and Rachel Keller discuss their characters’ arcs and their experience working on the show.


For J.T. Rogers, the creator of HBO Max’s hit action series Tokyo Vice, the road to creating the series has been filled with passion and plenty of twists. It all began back in a Driver’s Ed class in Columbia, Missouri, many decades ago. Taking tests and waiting for test drives, Rogers met classmate Jake Adelstein, who’d become the famed journalist on which Tokyo Vice is based. Adelstein spent much of his career in Japan, often seeing its gritty underbelly, and eventually wrote the bestseller Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan. The series, of course, culls from the book, tracking a Western journalist (Jake Adelstein, played by Ansel Elgort) working in Tokyo only to find himself taking on one of the city’s most powerful crime bosses. Michael Mann’s direction helped fuel the allure of the series.

“From the get-go, I had a sense of what I wanted the story to be over the first two seasons,” Rogers shared ahead of the long-awaited season two debut on February 8. “Thus, the cliffhangers from season one, which were really unbeknownst to the audience until now, was me just reaching the midway point. In many ways, the first episode of the second season is really the climax. It’s part B to part A of the last episode of season one. Then we leap ahead three months in time and, in essence, begin season two. And if season one really was to create the world, to lay the palette, to lay out the silverware as it were, now we’re going to eat. War is going to happen, and moral questions are going to become quite gripping for all of our main characters.”

Sounds like a meaty feast. The ten-episode second season brings back Elgort as Jake, Oscar-nominee Ken Watanabe (The Creator), Rachel Keller, Show Kasamatsu, Rinko Kikuchi, and Ayumi Ito. New series regulars include Yosuke Kubozuka and Miki Maya. Expect gripping action, high tension, suspense, and everything else we’ve come to love about Tokyo Vice. As for whether Rogers and Adelstein passed Driver’s Ed, Rogers quipped: “He was a little iffy.” Meanwhile, Rogers, series stars Rachel Keller and Show Kasamatsu, and producer Alan Poul unpack the season ahead and other high points in this exclusive MovieWeb interview.


Show Kasamatsu on Michael Mann

Created and written by Tony Award winner J.T. Rogers, Tokyo Vice became an immediate sensation. Having Michael Man (Ford v Ferrari, Ferrari, Heat 2) on board as executive producer was a big plus. Loosely inspired by Jake Adelstein’s first-hand account of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police beat, season two of the series returned to Tokyo to shoot. Expect to be taken deeper into the city’s criminal underworld as Jake soon realizes that his life and those close to him are in grave jeopardy.

We’re looking at you, Show Kasamatsu. The actor quickly became season one’s breakout star, playing Sato, the pop music-loving gangster caught between two worlds. Sato and Samantha (Rachel Keller) called it quits toward the end of the first season. Then Sato was brutally stabbed. His fate is unveiled immediately at the start of season two. “Finding something in common with the character is a really important process to play Sato,” Kasamatsu said. “But at the same time, I have to know myself well to find something similar. Sato is struggling in the Yakuza world, and I am ‘struggling’ in the acting world. Finding those similarities helped me.”

So did working with Mann. “Michael is very particular about the details,” Kasamatsu shared. “That’s why I can perform in front of the camera with confidence. If I had a suggestion for Michael, Michael was always all ears. We would talk about the scene and how the character develops. I still feel the connection with Michael. He’s a great director.”

Kasamatsu may have realized that early on. He quickly recalls the unique and hours-long audition process he experienced with Mann. “I did my acting but sometimes we are talking about my life, how to live, how to act, and why I was acting. Of course, I liked him as a director, but on the other side of that, it felt father-like. He was an inspiring father figure.”

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The actor also marveled at the incredible “Hollywood” feel of the entire production, making the experience feel like a dream come true. He went from somebody appreciating films like American Psycho to actually being in a large-scale production. “I loved it,” he said. “I remember watching Jake Gyllenhaal and loving his acting style, and I loved watching Korean films and the work of Ha Jung-woo (The Accidental Narco), which inspired me very much.”

Rachel Keller on Working With Show Kasamatsu

The impetus of Rachel Keller’s career began long ago when she attended her father’s acting class by default. Held on Saturdays, young Keller watched her father be expressive and playful. “I joke that he was my first acting teacher,” she shared, chuckling. As for the fallout between her Samantha and Sato and the upcoming season two story arc, she said:

“I wondered while I was reading the scripts and we were filming, how she prioritizes herself, her protection, and the women that she works for above everything. I’m curious to see how people respond to that, because as a young woman who’s brave enough to take risks and put things on the line, I think that’s sometimes, most of the time, difficult for people to swallow. I’m a sucker for the underdog story. When I watched the first season, I felt so emotionally moved and heartbroken for the Sato storyline, because it’s so honest—that your family wants something from you, and you’re being pulled to do something else. I loved watching scenes featuring Show.”

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In the first season, Keller said she didn’t know much Japanese, and Kasamatsu didn’t know that much English. “In between takes, we were quiet,” she went on. “Because we couldn’t really chat with each other. And I kind of loved that. There was a feeling between us that grew in the second season when I knew more Japanese, and he knew more English. We’re both quite simpatico as actors. There’s not a lot of fuss. We’re incredibly focused and there to do the work. We’re really invested in what we’re doing. We’re not trying to be supportive. We are just supportive of each other. And it felt fantastic.”

​​​​​Rogers and Alan Poul’s Great Teamwork

J.T. Rogers and Alan Poul make for a compelling storytelling team. Rogers is a revered playwright, and Poul’s previous successes include serving as executive producer and director of the hit shows Six Feet Under, The Newsroom, and Tales of the City. But working on Tokyo Vice affected Poul in a significant way.

“This project is particularly personal to me because my whole academic background is in Japan,” he said. “My film career began in Japan. My college degree is in Japanese literature, and I speak the language fluently. But after doing a couple of early films that were connected to Japan, I decided I didn’t want that to be my career. I then spent the next 20 years making television series that had nothing to do with Japan at all. So, when I was invited to come back into this one, it was a huge 25-years-later homecoming for me. Going back to Japan and shooting there, and using my skills and my connections, and reviving the relationships there, was incredibly personal.”

As a director, he had directed a couple of episodes of Rome for HBO, which included huge action sequences, but Tokyo Vice allowed him to really set up action set pieces and indulge in a kind of “action kinetic filmmaking that wasn’t what most of my career had been.”

“The thing that makes Tokyo Vice tick,” he adds, “is the depths of the characters and the ways in which we draw close to them and the ways in which all of the repercussions stem from the decisions that they make. So, in that sense, I feel like it fits very squarely into the work that I’ve been doing my whole career.”

As for what audiences may be most surprised about in season two, J.T. Rogers said:

“What drew me to wanting to make a series out of the book, was to project my own interests as a viewer onto others, and I think there’s some overlap. We as viewers are drawn to literally seeing people at work, and what it’s like to work in fields I know nothing about and taking that step further into a subculture. In this case, subcultures of subcultures that I know nothing about. There’s something about being given secret information, euphemistically, that is quite thrilling as a viewer. And this show is built on that. It’s about worlds under the surface of worlds.”

Experience season two of Tokyo Vice on Max beginning Feb.8.

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