Don’t Count ‘Tokyo Vice’ Out, Despite Max Cancelation — EPs Share Season 3 Plans

While Season 2 of “Tokyo Vice” was well-received and considered a contender in several categories this award season, Max still announced the show’s cancellation earlier this month. Despite the setback for the show inspired by journalist Jake Adelstein and his work covering the Japanese mafia, creator J.T. Rogers and director/executive producer Alan Poul expressed optimism about the show’s future and the possibility of finding it a new home as they spoke with TheWrap.

Turning “Tokyo Vice” into a Japanese “The Wire”

Rogers shared early plans for what remains ahead for the series in a not-yet-official third season.

“The thing that was deeply satisfying about building from Season 1 into 2 was, the storytelling was continuing to expand,” Rogers said.

He cited HBO’s “The Wire” as a touchstone for his ambitions.

“One of the things I love so much about that show is that, like a great 19th-century novel, it keeps expanding outward and outward, and everything keeps looping back,” Rogers said. “Deaths, lives, rebirths, small parts become big parts — abstract moments, seasons later, or chapters later, become something more meaningful.”

For Rogers, his approach to building “Tokyo Vice” in the same way goes back to the show’s beginning.

“We started purposely with this Westerner in the very first episode. We think it’s going to be just about him,” Rogers said. “And the second episode, we realized one of the themes of this series is things are not what they seem, pay attention. … And we realized, oh, those side characters, that guy in the bathroom with saran wrap over his fresh tattoo, washing his hands, he’s a major character.”

The show has continued to develop a sprawl in Season 2, but while it’s a lot to juggle, the majority of its characters are set to remain with “Tokyo Vice” going forward, according to Rogers.

“Most everyone who’s with us is going to continue on and continue to grow,” Rogers said. “We’re going to meet new characters. We’re going to meet more subcultures, because it’s a very large city. We’ve only scratched the surface.”

The show has explored where the worlds of crime and journalism intersect, which Rogers is excited to continue following.

“It’s a show about people who are constantly wrestling with, ‘how do you make moral choices in very complicated, dark situations?'” Rogers said.

“One of the great things about Japanese culture is that there are so many subcultures, and there were so many subcultures within subcultures,” Poul said. “And so in these first two seasons, we focus mostly on four of the subcultures — the journalism, the police, the criminal underworld and the nightlife that’s shown by the hostess clubs. But there are myriad subcultures that remain unexplored.”

Keeping the “Tokyo” in “Tokyo Vice”

Despite the difficulties of filming in Tokyo, when it comes to whether the show will continue to do so, Rogers responded with an emphatic, “Yes, yes, yes.”

“Certainly when it comes to budgets and things like that, I get asked that all the time,” Poul said. “But what would have been the point of proving that we could do it to then walk away and not do it?”

That’s not to say the show won’t do episodes exploring other parts of Japan — as Poul noted, it’s not a huge country in terms of land mass, but it has a wide variety of environments. “I think we only really left Tokyo to go to two places, Missouri and Nagano up North. And so, sure, there could be a lot of trips to be had.”

“If we’re to do a Season 3 or beyond, we’ll not be doing it on a set in Burbank,” Rogers said, smiling.

Still, the producers admitted that it’s a challenging time for the entertainment industry — particularly television.

“As I put it to a few colleagues the other day over a drink, I said, ‘You know, for this profession, this is the 2008 financial crash,'” Rogers said. “We’re still waiting to find out what will be left and what the contraction will mean. But our job is just to work with our partner, Fifth Season, that sells the show worldwide and to great success, who are very, very keen to do more.”

“And we put ourselves in their hands,” Rogers added. “And our job is to be ready. And it’s my job to keep building the story in preparation for getting to do it.”

Season 3’s source material

There’s material that’s both based on the true story of Adelstein and extrapolating from there. The show’s production company, Fifth Season (formerly Endeavor Content), already optioned Adelstein’s book “The Last Yakuza.” It continues his reporting of Tokyo’s crime world, while he also has a direct sequel to his original memoir, “Tokyo Noir,” set for release later this year.

“The series came, in principle and in practice, out of the memoir,” Rogers explained. “But it has become its own thing, with Jake’s blessing and involvement.”

“So I, as the storyteller, I have the book,” Rogers said. “I have all the other experts and people now involved with the show. I have Alan to draw on. I have his ‘The Last Yakuza.'”

Rogers can also pull from his own longtime friendship with Adelstein. “I have the endless conversations and stories from Jake, some of which were never published, that only I know, or other close friends,” Rogers said.

“And then, I’ll tell you a secret: One makes things up as a fiction writer,” Rogers winkingly added, noting that elements of the show have already been written with dramatic license and composite characters.

Adelstein continues to advise Rogers, serving as an EP on the show.

“Not to be reductive, but he’s someone I can call all the time and say, ‘Hey, walk me through, what was it like this year and that month when you were a reporter?'” Rogers explained. Or, he added, he might be asking, “‘Were there red coffee cups or blue coffee cups?’ And sometimes it gets that granular.”

That’s because, Rogers said, they have an “obsession” with making the show believable and authentic to the time period.

“I want a Japanese cop who worked in these neighborhoods in 1999 to watch this show and go, ‘Wow, yeah, that’s what it was like,'” Rogers said.

“Jake, he’s a great resource and he’s incredibly supportive and very generous about wild changes from his actual life that I’ve made, including casting a six-foot-five movie star as him,” Rogers said.

He quipped that he told the real Adelstein the reason the journalist liked the casting is because the show’s version is “younger and funnier.”

“We’ve been friends for decades — I love him,” Rogers added.

Finding international success in the streaming era

The show’s future is helped by the fact that it has fans around the world. It airs on the BBC in the U.K., along with a number of other major carriers. While not an original home of the show, it also found more viewers in Japan after “Tokyo Vice” was made available on Netflix in the region.

“We are on major streamers and in some cases, broadcast services in most of the major territories,” Poul said. “They have been very satisfied with the way that the show has gone. So hopefully everybody’s going to play a part in terms of seeing what happens next.”

“Right now it’s early stages, and really our partners in the trenches are Fifth Season,” Poul said. “And we kind of defer to them in their wisdom to figure out what the next step should be.”

As the show’s future develops, Poul shared what he’s seen change as they wait to move forward with getting another season out into the world.

“It used to be the name of the game was getting your next season on as soon as possible before people lose interest,” Poul said. “That seems to have become less critical, because there’s such an avalanche of new content every week, that getting it on before they lose interest is kind of impossible.”

But, he added, even if it’s a year, or two years — or more — before a show returns in the current era, “you can get back their interest if you’ve made something that left a hold on their imagination.”

“You just have to make something good enough that will pierce, will rise above the ocean, of the flood of content,” Rogers said. “And that’s a high bar for us, as well as anyone making content in the streaming era, but that’s what we have to do. That’s all we can do.”

Poul and Rogers both expressed appreciation for fans showing their support, but while Rogers noted that “perception is important,” Poul admitted it’s been a long time since there’s been an effective grassroots campaign. Still, they seem confident that they’ve got the momentum for the show to officially find a new home.

Getting Americans to watch subtitles

Rogers also attributed the ride of success the show has been on to perceptions changing about how open Western audiences can be to non-English content. From when Rogers started working with the writers’ room on the show for Season 1 to the time Season 2 debuted, he said, the perception in Americans’ appetites for subtitled content “radically changed, almost 180 degrees.”

Working with Max, Rogers said that he had their support, but they would also question how many subtitled scenes the show included.

“I’d say, ‘We have to have them. This is a show set in Japan.’ All that went away” when it came time for Season 2, Rogers said. He credits “Squid Game” as being the project that began to open up minds of those in power at the streamers, with that success carried on by shows like “Shogun.”

“I think that shows that are set outside of the United States, shows that are about worlds other than the ones we know, there’s a huge appetite for that that’s finally being tapped,” Rogers said. “It’s been that way for many decades in other countries, but I feel like we’re, for a myriad of reasons, finally catching up.”

Rogers said he’s excited as a storyteller — and as a viewer who wants to see shows like this. Poul, who’d just returned from Tokyo, pointed to anime, manga and video games as the driving forces behind interest in Japanese content.

What’s next for the show’s lead characters

Rogers said that he wanted to remain vague, both not to box office himself in and to preserve the surprise for viewers watching Season 3. But he and Poul did offer a glimpse at what might be coming — including that it will remain Jake’s story.

“I mean, Jake is always going to be centered to the show. That’s my plan,” Rogers said. “But purposely from the get-go, before we even started shooting the pilot, the plan was to make him a first among equals.”

While he was less central in Season 2, the show looks to keep him as its viewpoint character going forward.

Season 2 seemed to end with Jake’s elder ally, Detective Katagiri, entering retirement — but the producers aren’t so sure that’s going to stick.

“Here’s the question: do you think Katagiri will remain happy being retired?” Poul asked.

“There’s a line on page, 55, let’s say, or 57 of that shooting script where he says, ‘Jake, you know, I just don’t see this retirement thing working out for me,'” Rogers teased.

The show also worked to empower its female characters, while showcasing the issues facing women in the turn-of-the-millennium-set show. Poul noted that Season 2 ends setting up the potential of Kazuko Tozawa, widow of the former crime boss, potentially becoming the first female yakuza boss — but there hasn’t been one in real life.

“It’s interesting to push the limits of what could be plausible,” Poul said. “What we don’t want to do is dip over into fantasy. So we want to stay within the bounds of what might actually have been able to happen.”

Where the show lands remains to be seen, but Rogers and Poul each shared their pride in what’s come thus far.

“It is really nice to be able to talk about something that turned out the way that you wanted it to, which, as we know, is not always the case,” Poul said, laughing. “It’s a total miracle that anything ever gets made. And if it gets made and comes out well, that’s like beyond a miracle. That’s basically winning a lottery.”

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