'Tokyo Vice' on HBO Max Draws Inspiration From a 2009 Memoir of Actual Events

Is 'Tokyo Vice' based on a true story? The new series on HBO Max draws inspiration from a memoir of actual events concerning the yakuza.

Callie (Carlos) Cadorniga - Author

Apr. 7 2022, Published 4:38 p.m. ET

Ansel Elgort and Ken Watanabe in 'Tokyo Vice'
Source: HBO Max

As the latest crime drama on HBO Max, Tokyo Vice looks to be another exciting addition to the library. The show is currently dancing at a 92 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, with critics citing the peek into Japan's seedy underbelly of crime as one of its strongest selling points. The series presents a harrowing and visceral look into the inner workings of the yakuza in the 1990s, but how much of it is a true story? Here's what we know about the truth of Tokyo Vice.

Article continues below advertisement

The series is is set in the 1990s and follows reporter Jake Adelstein (Ansel Elgort). Jake is the first foreign reporter to work at a major Japanese newspaper in Tokyo. Guided by organized crime detective Hiroto Katagiri (Ken Watanabe), Jake pursues stories revolving around the dangerous and deadly world of the yakuza. Tokyo Vice also stars Pacific Rim star Rinko Kikuchi and former Legion actor Rachel Keller.

As advertised, the series is heavily inspired by real life events.

jake adelstein real life
Source: TEDx Talks

The real Jake Adelstein hosting a Tedx Talk

Article continues below advertisement

Is 'Tokyo Vice' based on a true story?

If nothing else, the HBO Max series certainly isn't lacking for material to adapt. Tokyo Vice is based on a memoir actually written by Jake Adelstein in real life. The full title of the memoir is Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan. Originally published in 2009, the book recounts Jake's time as the first non-Japanese reporter who wrote for one of Japan's most popular news publications, Yomiuri Shinbun.

Many plot points in the show are slight alterations from the source material. For example, Jake in the show writes for the Meicho Shinbun, a fictionalization of the real life Yomiuri Shinbun paper. In real life, Jake also did work alongside a detective, though his name was Chiaki Sekiguchi and not Hiroto Katagiri. While it's reasonable to believe that the violent and intense events of the series are sensationalized versions of the truth, the real Jake Adelstein reportedly did face danger.

Article continues below advertisement

Amidst 80-hour work weeks and relationship troubles, Jake did work on stories about the Japanese mafia known as the yakuza. In fact, an expose that he wrote in 2009 about the FBI granting visas to members of the yakuza caused him to flee Japan in fear for his safety. The memoir itself was reportedly taboo amongst Japanese publishers, who likely feared response from the yakuza.

where is tokyo vice filmed

There was a previous attempt to adapt 'Tokyo Vice' into a movie.

HBO Max certainly wasn't the first to try adapting the events of Tokyo Vice into visual media. There was an attempt to adapt the story into a film in 2013. Daniel Radcliffe was even set to portray Jake Adelstein in the film.

Needless to say, production on the film never truly got off the ground. This left room for the series to take the spotlight in 2022.

New episodes of Tokyo Vice stream every Thursday on HBO Max. The limited series will last for eight episodes.

More from Distractify

Latest HBO Max News and Updates

    Opt-out of personalized ads

    © Copyright 2023 Distractify. Distractify is a registered trademark. All Rights Reserved. People may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website. Offers may be subject to change without notice.