Netflix’s Bilingual Crime-Noir Thriller Giri/Haji Fuses Cultures
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Netflix’s Bilingual Crime-Noir Thriller Giri/Haji Fuses Cultures

By Elizabeth Gibson for The J-Pop Exchange

Giri/Haji is an exciting new drama that explores the twisted butterfly effect one murder has across two continents.

The eight-part bilingual Netflix series bridges cultures, and the large cast frequently finds themselves entangling in unexpected ways. Having first premiered on the BBC Two in late 2019, Giri/Haji’s title is translated as “Duty/Shame” and that comes across clearly -- there is plenty of duty and honor to be proved and seen, just as there is plenty of shame to go around.

We see a no-nonsense Tokyo detective, Kenzo Miro (played by Takehiro Hira) go to London to search for his gang-member brother, Yuto (played by Yosuke Kubozuka) who, up until recently, Kenzo believed to be dead. The people Kenzo meets in London -- including a English detective, Sarah (played by Kelly Macdonald), dealing with her own relationship problems, and a gay male prostutite, Rodney (played by Will Sharpe), become closer to him than his actual family. To make matters even more complicated, Kenzo’s daughter, Taki (played by Aoi Okuyama) gets expelled from school and runs away from her Tokyo home and her mother to London to spend more time with her father. American actor Justin Long even makes a comic-relief appearance as Ellis Vickers, a millionaire's son from Pittsburgh.

As one can expect from an ensemble cast, there are plenty of side stories that eventually make their way to intertwine with the main plot: mafia turf wars explode, retaliation follows, and a lot of people die. The twists and turns of the intricate plot are done well enough, though, that it’s easy to forget how complicated the storyline actually is. As the title indicates, Giri/Haji is overflowing with the chasm of honor, moral and familial responsibilities, love, disgrace, and regret. The main characters wrestle with doing what is right for themselves and their families, while trying to do what’s right in general. While the plot is maybe not so relatable, the characters’ very human problems and dilemmas are very much so.

From dramatic rain shower shots to an admirable use of split-screen scenes to climatic, cinematic gunfights, the series is shot remarkably well. Just like the diverse cast and setting, the music featured in the show also varies; from R&B classics to avante garde bops to late-60s British rock ballads, the soundtrack somehow simultaneously is all over the place yet blends perfectly from one scene to the next.

The series is certainly bloody and violent, but not in an overdone, Hollywood kind of way. It isn’t flashy, nor is it completely original. It borrows a lot of elements from anime, including its Japanese watercolor flashback scenes (without being overly arty), as well as more popular crime-fiction noir themes (without being conventional). It does so just uniquely enough that it has garnered positive reviews, even reaching a 100-percent Rotten Tomatoes rating. The modern fusion of an East-West dynamic is fresh and even manages to share some wonderfully wry, sharply witty moments.

All eight episodes are now streaming on Netflix.

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