Netflix's Giri/Haji, Japanese for "duty/Shame", is a cop thriller with a lot on its mind. It's not just a crime thriller, but a quirky, dream-like exploration of family ties, guilt and duty. It's about a Japanese cop (Takehiro Hara) who trails his Yakuza brother (Yosuke Kubozuka) to London for committing a murder there that sparks a gang war in Tokyo. He draws a disgraced policewoman (Kelly MacDonald) and half-Japanese rent boy (Will Sharpe) into his increasingly messy situation. His family situation back in Tokyo deteriorates as his marriage crumbles. His daughter (Aoi Okuyama), in crisis from his dysfunctions, runs away to join him in London.
The great thing about Netflix is they bring shows we might otherwise not know about to light. The bad thing is they don't always publicise them so these shows might completely pass us by. Unlike higher profile productions like The Witcher or The Irishman, there has been zero ads or marketing for this show. That's too bad, because it's a hidden gem, a quirky, strange, dream-like thriller that sets its own path. Giri/Haji takes the conventions of the cop thriller and the Yakuza thriller to create a strange, surreal story that transcends its genre tropes.
"Giri/Haji": A British Crime Show That's Actually Different!
This is that rare British crime show that's not about serial killers or child abduction and murder, thank God. Honestly, virtually all of them are about those topics these days. Giri/Haji actually has something to say about family bonds, atonement, consequences and whether people can change. Nearly everyone here did a bad thing for good reasons, and it haunts them. They're afraid they might be doomed to keep doing bad things to fix a problem and it'll keep getting worse.
This is one of the most satisfyingly plotted crime shows of 2019. It starts as a slow burner and unpeels like an onion. Timelines shift to reveal new layers of the story and explain characters' motivations. Every character has their reasons for what they do, no matter how wrong it is. Every character gets their due, even the supporting characters we've forgotten who turn out to be significant. Everyone has their reasons for what they do, even the worst. The show also manages not to Orientalise the Japanese characters. It understands both Japanese and British culture without exoticizing either. All the characters are linked or tangled like a web. There are also moments of dry humour. Charlie Creed Miles steals the show as Abbot, the snarky London crime boss hoping to find a place in the Yakuza who follows an ethical code of his own writing.
London and Tokyo As Dreamscapes
The London sequences of the show take place in the square mile of Central London. Picadilly Circus, Leicester Square, Soho, Bloomsbury… they shot on the anonymous corners of those locations away from the touristy spots. I've been to virtually all of those streets at one point or another. London takes on an abstract, dream-like quality in the story.
Tokyo becomes a distant memory to Detective Mori the longer he stays in London, but his partner and family have their own parts to play in the overarching skirmish.
The finale features the most unexpected and out-there climax of any crime show that's absurd, farcical and moving at the same time.
This is one of the more pleasant surprises to hit Netflix, and well worth your time.