Giri/Haji, streaming on Netflix, centers on Kenzo Mori, a Tokyo policeman sent to London to track down a murderer. That murderer, by the way, is his estranged brother Yuto, a Yakuza gang member. Created and written by Joe Barton, Giri/Haji slashes between the high-gloss Yakuza world of Tokyo and the street-level chase in London. As straightforward as that IMDb synopsis may be, Giri/Haji is anything but conventional.
Giri/Haji elevates an old school crime story with modern flair. With a non-linear narrative formula, voyeuristic split screens, animated flashbacks, and one remarkably spoiler-ific dance number that must be witnessed for the sheer raw emotion it portrays, the eight-episode season is equal parts country and rock-n-roll, sushi and prime rib.
Takehiro Hira stars as detective Kenzo Mori who is ordered by his commander, while also pressured by the Yakuza, to find and return Yuto (Yosuke Kubozuka), who murdered a rival Yakuza boss’ nephew in London. Failure will result in a gang war, adding to the ticking clock of Mori’s mission. In London, Mori falls into an accidental partnership with Sarah Weitzmann (Kelly Macdonald) who is dealing with the ramifications of being a whistleblower. Even stranger, yet amusingly fulfilling, is Mori’s friendship with Rodney, a drug-addicted, half-Japanese rent boy, played by Will Sharpe who beautifully channels Freddie Mercury’s devil-may-care spirit if not actual ghost.
The first three episodes cut between London and Tokyo, the recent past and the present, as crimes are committed and hidden, trails are uncovered, and passions explode. Following a literal and figurative London town shoot out, Giri/Haji slips off its police procedural kimono only to emerge as an offbeat family drama. And a heavily dysfunctional one at that. Mori’s teenaged daughter, Taki, follows her father only to become embroiled with the Yakuza’s side-quest and Rodney’s rampantly-queer lifestyle. The lonely and quirky Sarah discovers an attraction to the tall Japanese detective, who, in turn, finds London to be a comfortable distance from his increasingly-distant wife and ailing father.
Kenzo, Taki, Sarah, and Rodney become a unique family unit; full of rage, questions, discovery, and humor. Humor, by the way, is interwoven throughout, be it gallows or slapstick. The only detriment to this theme is as the converging storylines complete, the lightness sometimes uncharacteristically replaces the grim and heavy rendering certain conclusions too neat. Too easy an out yet retaining a presence on the firmament. Skewing more Neil Cross Luther than Guy Ritchie oddball. In the world of Giri/Haji convenient does not mean softball. Choices are made yet an equal number are not. Those left open? Here’s praying Joe Barton is already penning season two.
The show floats from hard boiled cop drama to bittersweet romance. Of familial bonds and the repentance of sins. Yet the Yakuza gang war threat constantly tightens. All players are involved and get their own story to tell in one fashion or another. Giri/Haji is powerful, unique, and damn compelling.
Giri and Haji translates into duty and shame. More specifically? Your duty is to watch and a downright shame to ignore.