Modern crime may be global sometimes but culture certainly isn’t. Giri / Haji follows the after-effects of what happens when the nephew of a Japan Yakuza boss is murdered in London, using the iconic sword of a rival Yakuza family. Tokyo cop Kenzo Mori must track down the culprit in London before a gang war breaks out, but the suspect may be his long lost brother, Yuto. Cue plenty of ocean hopping action as past secrets and present tensions bubble over.
Originally airing on the BBC in 2019, Giri / Haji is a crime drama stuffed full of great characters who light up the screen. The core relationship between Kenzo and Yuto is a nuanced one of family guilt, obligation, and betrayal. Flashbacks show how Yuto (Yōsuke Kubozuka) became involved with the Yakuza and the tough choices that police officer Kenzo (Takehiro Hira) had to make.
For most of the series, the action switches between Japan and the UK but the latter has the bulk of the juicier scenes. Kenzo’s circle widens as he has to juggle a gaggle of demands. Taki is his teenage daughter who secretly tagged along. Rodney is a half-Japanese half-British rent boy mourning the death of his lover. London police officer Sarah is coping with harassment after she snitched on her cop boyfriend who planted evidence. And exasperated Brit gangster Connor Abbot is obsessed with all things Japanese that might be clouding his common sense. Kenzo’s investigation brings him closer to Sarah, and within touching distance of a brother who doesn’t want to be found.
Giri / Haji (which translates to Duty / Shame) equally divides it’s time between all its UK based characters well and each of their motivations is given decent run time. It’s a shame that the Japanese side (apart from flashbacks) is mostly relegated to keeping us updated on the internal turmoil bubbling under. Thankfully, come the closing episodes, focus shifts to Kenzo’s wife and mother who start to take matters into their own hands with both hilarious and tense effect.
Whilst by no means a comedy, the humour in Giri / Haji is excellently crafted. Rodney’s plotline is often tragic (he is abused by a pimp, he guzzles recreational drugs). But he is also gifted with tons of sardonic quips and put-downs delivered with deft eye-rolling skill by Will Sharpe (writer and star of dark comedy, Flowers). Similarly, as straight-faced as Kenzo is, the English / Japanese sense of humour divide between him and weary Sarah makes for some fun back and forth. That they end up becoming attracted to each other almost spoils it, as their spark doesn’t feel like a romantic one.
Once Yuto is exposed and his presence brings chaos to all the characters, you will be well and truly invested in the fate of those in Giri / Haji. All this characterisation is delivered to you on a platter of wonderfully stylised presentation. Cityscapes of London and Tokyo are obviously prominent, but the narrated ink sketch recaps at the start of each episode give the series a culturally soaked feel.
Without spoiling the ending, it would be remiss to mention that a high stakes showdown takes a thoroughly unexpected artistic turn. The gall of such a final set piece in lesser-skilled hands could have been conceited, but it is delivered so beautifully, that unlike many crime dramas, Giri / Haji ends on a moment of breathtaking grace. Watching Giri / Haji is neither a duty nor shameful.
Words by Michael Record