Netflix's 'Giri/Haji' Season 1 Review: Come for the thrill, stay for the existential despair
This story contains major spoilers from 'Giri/Haji'
It is easy to base your first impressions of the Japanese-Anglo thriller series 'Giri/Haji' on the very first episode: a gritty crime thriller with a gory premise involving the notoriously murderous Yakuza and the police force of two nations.
But it is after the first episode that the true nature of the series is revealed — a marvelous amalgamation of thrill, violence, drama, melancholy, humor, and the element of surprise.
Kenzo Mori (Takehiro Hira), a Tokyo detective travels to London to look for his long lost younger brother Yuto (Yôsuke Kubozuka). For roughly a year, he had presumed Yuto to be dead, but he is now believed to be posing as a Yakuza gangster wanted for the murder of a Japanese businessman.
With his family's honor at stake and the peace between the warring gangs of the Yakuza back home highly fragile, Kenzo must act fast and bring his brother back home to Tokyo.
Yuto, however, doesn't wish to come back home. We don't know it yet but he has a much larger picture in mind and he won't rest till he gets what he has set out to do, come what may.
In a thrilling tale, 'Giri/Haji', which is directly translated as 'Duty/Shame', tells the story of a group of complex characters that are somehow linked by their very own decisions.
The butterfly effect — a phenomenon that never fails to amaze us — ties the characters together in a seamless yet chaotic puppet show that is simply mindblowing. In one particular scene with Sarah (Kelly Macdonald), this existential despair is reflected with a precision that will astound you.
'Giri/Haji' is a meticulous commentary on sibling relationships, particularly male sibling relationships. Scattered throughout the first half of the series, depicted through flashbacks, we see Kenzo and his younger brother Yuto share a tender relationship that has surpassed the undulations of life.
But today, there are promises made that were never fulfilled, words exchanged that were never meant, dreams of togetherness torn apart by outside forces, a family home destroyed by the tides of time.
Above all, however, it is a story about love and family — love and family against all odds.
Our story begins with the desperate search one brother embarks on — and since we don't wish to spoil your ending, we won't say much — and as we follow him on the path, new characters are introduced and lost. Yet it is the family that remains intact.
For instance, when Yuto is at his lowest, he phones the one person we had not imagined he would. He makes a request enlisting their help for a mountainous task that if blundered, could put their lives in jeopardy. And help is on its way.
We also want to give 'Giri/Haji' brownie points for its striking mise en scène and equally spectacular cinematography by Piers McGrail and David Odd. We must add that the "mind-blowing" element of 'Giri/Haji' must be credited in part to the cinematography with slow-motion shots fused with long-drawn shots meant to impress.
With screenplay by Joe Barton and direction by Ben Chessell and Julian Farino, 'Giri/Haji' brings you stories of love — forbidden, forgotten, long-lost — of family, of yearnings, of sibling relationships, and most importantly, of highly critical Asian mothers who will never say no to an opportunity for a good scolding rarely caring to conceal it but only ever done out of love.
Season 1 of 'Giri/Haji' is currently streaming on Netflix.