Giri/Haji is a 2019 Netflix original crime drama that focuses on a detective from Tokyo that travels to London to track down his ex-Yakuza brother. Whew. That sounds exciting, but wait, there’s more! Even beyond it’s incredible story and characters, the way the show is presented is full of creativity and originality. For once, you really, truly won’t find a show like this anywhere else.
The story takes place simultaneously is Tokyo and London, and as a result utilizes both the Japanese and English languages. I’d say the story spends more time in London, and in English, but it’s fairly even, since there are quite a few full Japanese conversations while in London. The story is full of twists and turns, even within it’s short 8 episode run. Personally, I found the story absolutely enthralling. Plus, the way it is told was a unique experience for me. Most of the show is shot in the usual live action sense, but there are snippets of 2D animation (which looks fantastic!) and even a totally unexpected but killer interpretive dance scene. The show’s creator, writer, and executive producer, Joe Barton, said, “I’ve never had one of my TV shows greenlit before, it felt mad that we were being allowed to make this show at all and I wanted to throw everything at it, just in case they never let me make another one.” The sheer creativity and number of brilliant ideas in this show is insane! The last few scenes of episode 4 were so phenomenal that I thought the show had peaked there, but it just kept getting better! It’s some of the best television I’ve ever seen. The comedic, serious, and highly emotional scenes are balanced better than any other show I can remember, and I’ve watched a lot of TV.
The show’s main focus is on family, redemption, and morality. When do you let someone, or something, go? How much can you forgive someone for? How far will you go for your family, and does being family even demand you to act at all?
Giri/Haji itself means, in Japanese, “Duty/Shame”. These ideas are important to keep in mind as you meet each character. Each of them has a duty – to their family, to their jobs, and to themselves. They also each have shame, either because of something they did in the past, something that is currently occurring in their lives, or something that happens during the show, sometimes even a mix of all three! To understand the characters of this show, you must understand how duty and shame relate to each of them.
The show has a fairly big cast, seeing as it focuses on two of the world’s biggest and most influential cities, but the show manages to stay personal with its very human and very real characters. First we have our main lead, Kenzo Mori (Takehiro Hira), a world-weary Tokyo detective that travels to London to find his brother, risking a huge and destructive gang war back home if he doesn’t. There’s also Yuto Mori (Yōsuke Kubozuka), Kenzo’s ex-Yakuza brother who was thought to be dead. Our other main lead is alienated London detective Sarah Weitzmann (Kelly Macdonald). The show also features a drug addict half-Japanese half-British rent boy named Rodney Yamaguchi (Will Sharpe), who befriends Sarah, Kenzo, and even Taki Mori (Aoi Okuyama), Kenzo’s rebellious daughter who runs away from her home in Japan to follow her father across the globe. That’s the main crew in London, alongside the mafia that’s present there, while the story in Tokyo focuses on Kenzo’s family, which is slowly falling apart, and his coworkers who are trying desperately to prevent a war between the Yakuza.
The acting in this show is incredible, as actors navigate both their native and a foreign language, as well as the cultures that accompany them, on top of the already complicated emotions and characters they need to portray. The acting in this show is some of the best I’ve ever seen, and when something’s as good as this, it can’t really be put into words. It needs to be watched.
In short, this show has a lot to offer, and those expecting something simple or genre-specific from it would be wrong. It’s not a traditional crime show, and it’s not a traditional thriller. It’s not a traditional romance, and it’s not a traditional drama. This show really isn’t a traditional anything – it is nothing if not stylistically bold. It’s not wrapped in metaphors and symbolism in an art film way though – it’s unique, creative, and downright spectacular. In fact, I’d given it a confident 10/10.
This show really flew under the radar – I’ve hardly heard anyone talk about it, both this year and last. It is undoubtedly the most underrated show I’ve ever seen, and a true hidden gem. So it feels like my duty to recommend this show to everyone. It’s got some mature themes, but nothing anyone over the age of 15 can’t handle. For now the show only has one season, with the ending leaving room for a second but not needing it. Giri/Haji is only available on Netflix in the US and most other countries, but is also available on BBC in the UK.