Giri/Haji (by Joe Barton, 2020) – A Tokyo detective arrives in London when he is tasked to find his brother, whose alleged crime sends ripples across the two cities.
Tokyo detective Kenzo Mori (Takehiro Hira) travels to Soho in search of his estranged brother Yuto (Yosuke Kubozuka), whose alleged murder of a Yazuka family member ignites an all-out gang war. The incident sets the Yakuza on a collision course with the Met Police, embroiling others along the way.
In an endless sea of British crime dramas, Giri/Haji stands out by a mile. It is for one, an adventurous cultural exchange. Shuttling between Japan and the UK, the unique series takes its time to understand the minutiae of foreign traditions, respectful and never exploitative.
The contrast in cultures is interesting, though it is ultimately the similarities that fascinate the most. In his story, Joe Barton recognises the experiences that are neither uniquely Japanese nor British, but simply human.
This brilliant writing extends from the story to the characters. Caught between morality and familial loyalty, Kenzo struggles to find his place in the volatile conflict, and he is not the only one who feels lost. His teenage daughter Taki (Aoi Okuyama) holds onto her secrets, lashing out in her own little ways.
Chance places him in the path of others. Met detective Sarah Weitzmann (Kelly Macdonald) has just barely made it out of a scandal, her anxiety stemming from a dark place. Sex worker Rodney (Will Sharpe) becomes the victim of a brutal assault, which starts to unravel his self-destructive streak.
As these broken souls find their way to each other, they form an unlikely alliance for a quest that is as much about finding Yuto, as it is about finding themselves. They confess bad intentions. Yet their vulnerability makes us empathise with their predicament and care for their fates, which is especially nerve-racking given the odds stacked against them.
Punctuated by sudden violence, there rarely is a moment of peace. Enemies surge forth from all fronts, including Yakuza crime lord Fukuhara (Masahiro Motoki), British gangster Abbott (Charlie Creed-Miles), and mob heir Ellis Vickers (Justin Long). Every second brims with fatal danger, even as Rodney spills his charming wit in sharp one-liners.
Back in Tokyo, the women of Kenzo’s family – his wife Rei (Yuko Nakamura) and mother Natsuko (Mitsuko Oka) – face their own problems. They not only pass the low bar of the Bechdel test, but play significant roles that defy the expected masculinity of a plot involving the Yakuza.
Eight episodes spin a massive web of complex people and troubles, where threads meet but never entangle. Each is gracefully crafted and artfully shot. Stylistic choices, including a particularly beautiful contemporary dance, are always meaningful and never feel out of place.
As the consequences of sins continue to spiral, there comes an aching realisation that things would never be the way they once were. Still, the final chapters make us want to believe in second chances, in hope that they might somehow heal, someday.
In how easy it is to fall in sin and hard to find redemption, the wondrously written and beautifully cinematic Giri/Haji makes us feel and root for the broken.
Giri/Haji is now on Netflix.