Are Tokyo Vice's Yakuza Gangs Real? Tozawa & Chihara-Kai Explained

The immersive reality of Tokyo Vice might lead audiences to question whether the Yakuza gangs, including Tozawa and Chihara-Kai, are real or if they're made up for the show. Tokyo Vice is based on the memoir by journalist Jake Adelstein, which covered his time working for the biggest newspaper in the world, reporting on the police beat in the '90s. During that time, Adelstein, played by Ansel Elgort in the show, got deeply involved in investigating the criminal underworld, which was run by the Yakuza, an organized crime syndicate operating in Tokyo and throughout Japan.

Along with Elgort, the show stars Ken Watanabe as a police detective who mentors Adelstein, Rachel Keller as a fellow expat trying to make her way in Tokyo, and Rinko Kikuchi as an editor at the paper. Tokyo Vice also stars Shô Kasamatsu as Sato, a young Yakuza member, Shun Sugata as Ishida, a raspy-voiced oyabun leader, and Ayumi Tanida as Tozawa, a rival oyabun who goes to war with Isihida in Tokyo Vice season 1. Adelstein's involvement in reporting on the Yakuza exposes him in more ways than one as to how organized crime worked in that region during the '90s, eventually leading to him receiving numerous warnings, attacks, and death threats throughout his time there.

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While Tokyo Vice is based on Jake Adelstein's memoir, it's not a direct adaptation and operates as fiction, even if it accurately mirrors many of the events, characters, and time period. As a result, the Yakuza gangs in the series are fictional, but still a blend of real-world people and organizations that Elgort's Adelstein encountered and reported on, as well as those that were operating in the region during that era. Most of the Yakuza gang characters are composites of real people that Adelstein reported on or created to represent the types of individuals operating within the Yakuza in the mid-to-late 90s. However, Tozawa, one of the main oyabuns of a competing Yakuza gang is representative of a very specific boss that Adelstein was reporting on, who was the main culprit that led to his eventual death threats.

Tozawa, as played by Tanida in Tokyo Vice, is loosely based on Yakuza boss Tadamasa Goto, the founding head of the Goto-gumi, an affiliate of the Yamaguchi-gumi crime syndicate. The true Tokyo Vice story is that Jake Adelstein was reporting on Goto and discovered that he was suffering from liver failure and was working as an informant with the F.B.I. in order to jump the line for a liver transplant in the United States. Goto received a new liver as part of his deal, but the F.B.I. later said that the information he gave was minimal and didn't result in any major busts, outside of Susumu Kajiyama, known as the "loan shark king," who ran a scam on loans with over-the-top interest rates (which is also part of Tokyo Vice's story, albeit in fictionalized form).

Ishida, as played by Sugata in Tokyo Vice's impressive cast, is not based on any one particular person like Tozawa is, but rather a compilation of Yakuza boss figureheads. There is not a crime family in the Yakuza known as Chihara-Kai, but there are many that have similar-sounding names, such as Yamaguchi-gumi, Sumiyoshi-kai, and Inagawa-kai, which are some of the largest clans currently operating in Japan. There are many offshoots and smaller syndicates that fall within the different clans as well, but Ishida and Chihara-Kai are more representative of a larger clan, rather than a smaller one, even if fictional in Tokyo Vice.

Next: Tokyo Vice Yakuza Explained: History, Rituals & Real-Life Comparison

New episodes of Tokyo Vice release Thursdays on HBO Max.

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