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Review: “Giri/Haji” – Netflix’s Hidden Gem (Non-Spoiler)

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Among Netflix’s vast catalogue of films and TV series’ lies an unassuming Japanese-British crime drama that really leaves an impression. Enter Giri/Haji, which translate to “Duty/Shame”. Admittedly, I too was late to check out this show, as it was unfortunately not as heavily promoted as other Netflix content. Despite this, it’s a very refreshing and exciting eight episode watch that offers a new flavour to the crime genre.

Alternating between London and Tokyo, we follow veteran detective and family man, Kenzo Mori (Takehiro Hira) investigating the murder a Yakuza member’s nephew. All signs point to the killer being Yuto (Yôsuke Kobozuka), Kenzo’s younger brother whom everyone presumed dead. The investigation leads Kenzo to London in search of his brother. Here, he strikes the friendship with charming prostitute, Rodney (Will Sharpe), and ostracized detective, Sarah Weitzmann (Kelly Macdonald). And to add complication, Kenzo’s daughter, Taki (Aoi Okuyama), also flees to London. Meanwhile, in Tokyo, tensions between rival Yakuza gangs arise, and Kenzo’s family gets roped into the conflict. Sure, the premise itself may not sound like anything out of the ordinary, but the show ends up being an entertaining ride with quite a few unexpected twists.

Giri/Haji is a delicious cocktail of soap opera family drama with gritty, violent crime. The cross-cultural tale offers a refreshing perspective on an otherwise very common genre. In addition to the main plot, there’s various romances, betrayals, character’s exploring their sexuality or dealing with substance abuse, and much more. And Giri/Haji manages to interweave these various elements naturally, without feeling overcrowded. It impressively strikes the right tonal balance between dramatic sentimentality and intense thrills, while also being incredibly funny.

The various character journeys and plot points spanning London and Tokyo smoothly intersect. Though most of the main characters end up in London, the drama in Japan is just as eventful. It’s satisfying how the each piece of dialogue or even minor events have some greater implication or payoff later. Nothing occurs without some ripple effect on the surrounding characters, and the filmmakers heavily dramatize these story and thematic connections. I’m always a sucker for a good cross-cut or clever transition, and Giri/Haji does these stylistic flourishes well.

The ways Giri/Haji embraces a heightened sense of style and visuals is much appreciated. The series boasts some slick cinematography and editing that not only tells a cohesive story, but one with flare. Dramatic flashbacks and inventive slow-mo scenes wonderfully elevate the melodrama of the show. It skillfully navigates gritty realism and a playful theatricality. There’s a sequence in the finale, that’s so unexpectedly wild and utterly beautiful, which really solidifies the poetic nature of the show to great effect. Even the episode recaps are done with a beautiful water colour animation style that actually makes them interesting to watch.

Meanwhile, the characters are definitely the show’s biggest strength, and the entire cast gives solid performances. As the title suggests, themes of duty and shame are prevalent throughout the series, and explored in each character uniquely. Everyone gets to have their own personality, motives and struggles. The various character interactions – whether they be playful, heartfelt or intense – are all engrossing to watch. It’s nice that characters are given the time to just carry out conversations. By the end you’re left truly invested in their lives, and buy into their connections, especially between Kenzo, Sarah, Rodney, and Taki. And even the side characters get to have stand-out moments too. The show’s strong focus on the lives and dynamics of the characters provides a nice warmth and humanity, in contrast to all the surrounding violence and conflicts.

Where Giri/Haji occasionally stumbles, however, is in its tendency to focus on thematic parallels at the expense of the plot. Certain story beats are simplistic or undeveloped. You understand in general what’s going on, but the specifics of situations are sometimes vague. Luckily, even when the story’s plotting falters at times, the well-realized character journeys still lead to impactful resolutions by the end. Show creator Joe Barton’s ability juggle so many elements and still tie them all together by the end deserves a lot of credit.

If you like crime, family drama and just plain entertaining television, Giri/Haji is definitely worth the watch. This inventive, stylish and diverse trans-continental affair stands out from its peers. These eight episodes make for an entertaining binge-watch that leaves you wanting more. And while Giri/Haji does function great as a self-contained mini-series, it is very unfortunate that the BBC and Netflix have decided not to re-new it. I, for one, would have loved a second season to explore the finale’s fallout. In any case, this is still one of the most underappreciated series out there, so check it out!

 

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