Tokyo Vice Executive Producer Alan Poul On Filming In Tokyo And The Possibility Of Season 2 [Interview]

It's been over 10 years since Michael Mann ("Heat," "Thief") directed the pilot episode of HBO's ill-fated series "Luck," but he's returning to the small screen with a new crime drama for HBO Max called "Tokyo Vice." Mann directed the pilot episode of this slick new show, which is based on the true story of Jake Adelstein (Ansel Elgort), an American journalist who moves to Tokyo and becomes the first foreign-born writer on the staff of one of the city's top newspapers. Jake quickly discovers that local gangs have a stranglehold on the city, and he eventually aligns with a detective (Ken Watanabe) to try to uncover the corruption lying just beneath the surface.

/Film spoke with executive producer Alan Poul about what Mann brought to the table as a director, his own connection to Japan, and more.

'The moment you bring Michael in, everything changes.'

I know this project has been kicking around in a couple of different forms for a long time now. How and when did you first get involved with it?

John Lesher, who's one of our executive producers, had the rights to Jake Adelstein's book for some years, and at first it was going to be a feature. And then once it found its current form as a continuing television series and once Ansel was already attached, then they asked me if I would come onboard because I know all the participants. I have a long history, both with episodic television and with Japan. I've been working with Japan for 30 years. I was kind of like the last one in, but I hope I was able to bring something that made a difference.

Can you tell me about getting Michael Mann onboard? What was that process like? If you were the last one in, maybe you didn't have the full front row seat on that. 

I don't really have the front row seat on that, except to say that obviously the moment you bring Michael in, everything changes.

In what way? What sort of energy does he bring?

Michael's almost in a class by himself. He has so much stature as a filmmaker. Also, he has the track record and the resume to back it up. So, when Michael's coming into a film, it's — to the extent that Michael's around, it's his film. We had the structure and we had the script and we had a whole season's worth of story, but in terms of figuring out how to put Tokyo up there, that was what Michael came in to do.

I've only seen the first five episodes of the show, so I'm not exactly sure how it ends. Have there been discussions about maybe doing a second season — or if not continuing with these characters, maybe turning it into an anthology kind of thing set in Tokyo?

No, no. I mean, we love this city. We love these people. We love these characters, and we're not ready to let go of them yet. And you'll see when you get to the end of the season: It's a big ending. Big things change and it's a big ending, but it's also a beginning. 

'I think you feel the city breathing through the film.'

So, there are a lot of executive producers on this particular project.

[Deadpan] 87, by my count, yeah.

[Laughs] How would you describe your duties in that capacity on this show?

In the firmament of executive producers on this show, my particular place is that I have the experience with Japan. I speak Japanese fluently. I've worked in Japan, and I also have a long history as an executive producer and director of episodic television. So, it's really in the actual making of the show is where my talents come to the fore.

I was curious if you were involved with the location scouting at all. That's one of my favorite things about the show, is it really feels like you're actually there in the city. You're not shooting it in Toronto and pretending that it's Tokyo. Was that where they leaned on you in terms of like, "Oh, I know this great corner that we could shoot this scene on," that kind of thing?

Oh, no, no. Because, I mean, I've been going back and forth to Japan for years. I don't live there now. But I will say this: We committed very early on to shooting the entire show in and around Tokyo, and that bucks all the conventional wisdom. Because the conventional wisdom would say, both in terms of expenses and in terms of your sanity, is you shoot what you need to shoot in Tokyo, and then you go to an easier place to shoot the rest of it, whether it's Vancouver, Toronto, or Taiwan. But we were very committed to having that sense of authenticity in every frame of the film, and so we committed up front to shooting the whole thing in Tokyo, and I think it shows. I think you can feel it. I think you feel the city breathing through the film.

"Tokyo Vice" premieres on HBO Max on April 7, 2022.