Tokyo Vice True Story Explained (And What’s Changing the TV Show)


HBO Max Tokyo Vice is the platform’s newest original series adapting the book Tokyo Vice: An American reporter on the police crackdown in Japan by author Jake Adelstein, who begs the question of how much of the story is true. The show was created and written by JT Rogers, who also serves as showrunner, with veteran director Michael Mann serving as pilot director, setting the tone, style and pace for the series. Tokyo Vice Stars Ansel Elgort as Adelstein, with Ken Watanabe as the detective Hiroto KatagiriRachel Keller as Samantha, Ella Hull as Polina, Shô Kasamatsu as Sato, Hideaki Itô as Jin Miyamoto.


The real Adelstein moved to Japan when he was 19 and was hired to work for the world’s largest newspaper, The Yomiuri Shinbun, eventually tasked with beating the police in Tokyo. Adelstein worked for the newspaper from 1993 to 2005 and published his Tokyo Vice memoir in 2009. The book was optioned by Paramount to become a feature film starring Daniel Radcliffe as Adelstein, but it fell through and led to HBO, where Rogers was hired to adapt it as a TV show for the network.

Also see: HBO Max: All the Movies and TV Shows are Coming in April 2022

Tokyo Vice Showrunner JT Rogers has said that while the HBO Max adaptation is inspired by real events, it’s still fiction and doesn’t serve as a biography or documentary. Aside from Adelstein, none of the supporting characters are intended to represent real people in real life, despite some strong similarities. Ultimately, the story focuses on the setting and delves into the days when the Yakuza were a powerful force in Tokyo before their demise. The series covers events surrounding Adelstein’s book, including a yakuza boss informing his own crew to get a liver transplant in the United States, as well as a series of notable crimes the real Adelstein was subjected to during his tenure at the newspaper. While the actual events contain shades of truth, many characters are in some cases condensed, altered, or altered to fit the series’ narrative, rather than actually retell the events, despite a number of very specific callbacks.

What really happened in Tokyo Vice

Tokyo Vice Hbo Max Show

Adelstein was the first American hired to write for the Yomiuri Shinbun, and spent 12 years building relationships with local police, reporters, gang members, and civilians. During his time in Japan, which required 80-hour workweeks, he worked in the police force and navigated the world gaijin (outsiders) and encountering the region’s unique cultural and societal challenges while attempting to write about things that matter. Adelstein investigated everything from murders to fraud to suicides to arson and everything in between, including publishing the story about a yakuza boss, Tadamasa Goto, who acted as an FBI informant and leaked information about his gang in order to get a liver transplant United States. The newspaper did not publish the story, forcing Adelstein to stop and self-publish.

What Tokyo Vice changes about the true story

Ansel Elgort as Jake Adelstein in Tokyo Vice

While Adelstein remains the main protagonist of the story and depicts his actual journey, it is by no means a line-by-line adaptation of the book. Westside Story‘s Elgort portrays Adelstein in a mostly accurate way while still adding his own twist to the character. All others in the story (including the newspaper name) have been changed to suit the needs of the series, with some characters being a representation of many real people, such as: B. Rinko Kikuchi’s editor character, who is a hybrid of several people in Adelstein’s life. The time period also jumps around, using flashbacks and flashbacks rather than capturing a specific time from the book (Adelstein worked in real life from 1993 to 2005, but on the show he starts working at the newspaper in 1999). Ultimately, Tokyo Vice loosely adapts Adelstein’s book, using what it takes to tell a fictional story based on real events, but never as a full adaptation.

Did Jake Adelstein really work with an older cop?

Tokyo Vice Ansel Elgort and Ken Watanabe

In Tokyo Vice, Ken Watanabe’s character is based on Detective Chiaki Sekiguchi, a real-life police detective who mentored Adelstein throughout his stint as a reporter for the Mentor Yomiuri Shinbun. Watanabe, who goes by the name Hiroto Katagiri on the show, portrays the character as a mentor to Elgort’s Adelstein and at one point tells him he’s like the son he never had. According to Adelstein, the real Sekiguchi was a mostly good-natured family man but more brutal in his tactics towards the yakuza, a duality portrayed in the show. The real Sekiguchi died of cancer in 2008, and Adelstein has continued to speak fondly of the advice he’s received from the man over the years and in the trenches as a reporter. In fact, he gave Adelstein words he continues to live by: “Know the difference between hearing and listening and learn to listen to others.” This is emphasized in their interactions on the show, giving weight to the true character that Watanabe represents.

See also: Tokyo Vice Cast Guide: How do you know the actors

Did the yakuza actually threaten to kill Jake Adelstein in Tokyo Vice?

Ken Watanabe and Ansel Elgort in Tokyo Vice

Throughout his stint as a reporter, Adelstein was prone to investigating the yakuza, although the newspaper had an aversion to it for fear of retribution from the Tokyo crime syndicate. However, as the police became more involved in cracking down on the yakuza and new laws were introduced to restrict them, Adelstein was able to delve deeper into the criminal underworld and gain an understanding few could match. However, this also caused a stir within the organization, particularly when he covered Yakuza boss Tadamasa Goto and his controversy over liver transplants. Before the story broke, Adelstein’s life was threatened, and the yakuza told him: “Either delete the story or we will delete you.” The newspaper did not publish the story, but Adelstein eventually published it via The Washington Post in 2008.

What Happened After Jake Adelstein Left the Paper (Did He Go Back to the US?)

Jake Adelstein and Ansel Elgort Tokyo Vice

Tokyo Vice‘s Jake Adelstein continues to be a reporter, currently based in Tokyo and writing for The Daily Beast, Asia Times, Vice News, and The Japan Times. He served as the lead investigator for a US State Department investigation into human trafficking and currently serves on the board of directors of Polaris Project Japan, a non-profit organization that helps victims of human trafficking. Adelstein has appeared in Ted Talks, NatGeo documentaries, etc. as a subject matter expert on Japan’s criminal underworld and has often been sought out for his expertise in the field. In 2017 he became a Zen Buddhist and will publish a sequel to his memoirs Tokyo Vice in 2023, titled Private detective Tokyo.

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Tokyo Vice now airs every Thursday with new episodes on HBO Max.

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