Tokyo Vice — a Clumsy Masterpiece
The New York Times has an interesting piece about the HBO adaptation of Jake Adelstein’s memoir Tokyo Vice, published in 2009, which is one of the most riveting books I have ever read.
It is a memoir of 14 years spent as a crime reporter in Tokyo. It begins with Adelstein being warned by a yakuza that he has a choice: either quit his job and abandon the story he is working on (about a yakuza boss being allowed to enter the US and buy a liver transplant at UCLA) and leave Japan, or be killed. Most of the rest of the book recounts how he got to that point... and what he ultimately decides to do.
Adelstein is not much of a writer. His prose is clumsy and frequently cliched, and he has sentences so awkward it is obvious that by the time he wrote the book he was more used to writing and speaking in Japanese than in his native English. But none of that matters. He is such a brilliant storyteller that it is easy to see how he was able to become a successful reporter for a Japanese newspaper before he was fluent in Japanese.
It is a tale of friendship, sex, honour, betrayal, corporate cruelty, human trafficking, murder, torture, suicide, courage and compassion. It is funny, horrifying and moving. Adelstein does not spare himself; he is as ferociously honest about his own weaknesses and failures as he is about those of the thugs who are the subject of his reporting. A book written without literary ambition, but with a passion for truth-telling, turns out to be a masterpiece.