Film and TV

Review: Tokyo Vice and Slow Horses

Tokyo Vice with Ken Watanabe and Ansel Elgort.
Tokyo Vice with Ken Watanabe and Ansel Elgort. Screenshot

There are a ton of television shows that have been released over the month of April, with even more set for  the coming weeks. Among them: Better Call Saul is returning, HBO’s Barry, a new Star Wars Show, Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Two shows have come out the past couple of weeks that are worth checking out before they get drowned out by the tsunami of new shows that are arriving: Tokyo Vice and Slow Horses. A Japanese crime show from an iconic director and a slow-burn British Spy Thriller starring Oscar Winner Gary Oldman.

Tokyo Vice hails from Michael Mann, director of Heat and Collateral, among other works, a director who has influenced every crime movie for the past 27 years. Tokyo Vice takes us through the Tokyo underworld from the perspective of an American journalist who covers the Yakuza. The series stars Ansel Elgort, Ken Watanabe, and Rachel Keller, alongside some stellar Japanese performers. The series is a stylish crime drama with a sense of expansiveness in its storytelling, juggling multiple moving pieces and storylines that overlap and flesh out the world.

Mann doesn't direct every episode. So far, he only directs the first and the upcoming finale, but his visual language persists throughout the season. The first episode is some of the best direction you will see in a TV series. Mann pulls out all the tricks and is really pushing the limits of what Television can be visually. The following episodes don't have the auteurship the first hour does but the world that's established and the intrigue of Japanese crime culture is enthralling, making having to step back into a more conventional style acceptable (though it still looks great).

The big worry was the possibility of Ansel Elgort, who is a very polarizing actor, ruining a show that could have been really cool. He isn't bad, and his goofy fish-out-of-water demeanor kind of helps his performance. It's also a good thing he is surrounded by the likes of Ken Watanabe (Inception, The Last Samurai) and some lesser-known Japanese actors who are excellent. A true standout in the series is Shô Kasamatsu, who plays Sato, an exceedingly cool, brooding, and a vulnerable young member of the Yakuza who mirrors Elgort's Jake Adelstein in their respective professions.

Tokyo Vice is available to stream on HBO Max.
Based on the novel of the same name by Mick Herron, Slow Horses stars Gary Oldman as Jackson Lamb, the prickly leader of a group of British intelligence outcasts and screw-ups who gets twisted up in an operation that poses a massive political threat to the UK. The series focuses on the less glamorous offices of MI5, where those deemed incompetent or unmanageable are assigned to basically rot away professionally.

The cast is a real whos who of British actors that elevates the show, with huge names like Jonathan Pryce showing up for a scene here and there. A scene in which Gary Oldman and Kristen Scott Thomas meet at a park bench to discuss spy stuff has that much more weight because of the caliber of the two actors who are sending barbs at one another. There is action and plenty of suspense in the series, but the character interactions, the secret meetups, and conversations carry a narrative that can be pretty complex with multiple factions and moving parts.

The center of the conflict revolves around far-right movements in Britain, their relationship with a conservative politician running for office, and the kidnapping of a young Pakistani-British man. It comments on the surveillance state and far-right movements that reflect the state of things in the U.S. and abroad in real life, but mostly, it's just an entertaining spy show and mystery box filled with intrigue and great performances. It’s a mix of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and a Bond movie grounded in real-world rules with relevant themes, and it's completely worth checking out if you have an Apple TV+ subscription.

Slow Horses is available to stream on Apple TV+.
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Contributor Jamil David is a native Houstonian and Texas Southern University alumnus. He is interested in TV, sports and pop culture. @JMLJMLD
Contact: Jamil David