It's been a while since we've watched a self-contained BBC drama and I think we picked this one extremely well (or, really, Alison picked extremely well 😉). A story about two brothers – one a cop, one a reluctant exiled Yakuza – that twisted and turned throughout both Tokyo and London with near-perfect balance.
The first half of the season was brilliant, as Detective Kenzo is sent over to London to covertly locate the previously presumed dead Yuto who has just started a gang war back in Japan. The show dripfeeds information through flashbacks (during which they cleverly change the actual screen format to 4:3 and lower the resolution) and beautifully juxtaposed stories that consistently fracture and swirl around one another, slowly setting up a variety of increasingly connected characters. On the British side, you get to meet Sarah, a cop ostracised from her unit after she turned evidence on her boyfriend (another cop in the same unit) in a corruption sting, a whole collection of English gangsters right out of a Guy Ritchie film, and the utterly fantastic British-Japanese coke-addicted, raving, "rent boy" Rodney (played by Will Sharpe and, I'd say, the stand out performance of the show).
At the same time, through Kenzo's family and colleagues back in Japan, we get an inside look into the now-fractured balance of power between the police and Yakuza families, as all-out war begins to become a real possibility. We also begin to learn about Kenzo and Yuto's past, why Yuto has fled Japan, and how the lines between good and bad, right and wrong, are really quite fuzzy. It all blends togethe seamlessly, building an increasingly complex and nuanced story about culture, family, honour, trust, and ethics, adding layer-upon-layer of suspense and intrigue but still managing to consistently stay surprisingly funny at moments. One of the things Giri/Haji absolutely masters is cutting the tension with extremely dry wit and obvservational sarcasm, particularly with the Japanese characters who routinely say things in a way that has two meanings, one of which is darkly funny. It's excellently crafted and a joy to watch.
Then, as the second half of the show kicks into gear, we watch all the cards begin to wobble and ultimately come crashing down. Whether its the reckless actions of Kenzo's daughter, Taki, who runs away from home to London to be with her dad; Rodney's slow consumption by his internal battles over his boyfriend's suicide and his newfound friendship with this odd assortment of characters; Kenzo's realisation that his marriage is empty, whilst Sarah falls for him; Sarah battling her own paranoia and guilt as her ex is released from prison and we discover that her actions were not perhaps as morally grounded as we initially believed; the death of Kenzo and Yuto's father; or just the (literally) explosive collapse of underworld relationships in both countries as Yuto's actions end up with even more people dead in the streets. It's fast, gritty, utterly damning at times, and yet still somehow a little lighthearted... right up until that big finale.
Which, damn, goes off with a slightly weird bang. We suddenly find out all these additional details about each character, as they begin to face their own demons. Sarah's transgressions come home to roost as her ex uncovers that she's helping hide Yuto, a man wanted in multiple murders, but just as she straightens it all out with him Rodney's attempt to genuinely by helpful results in getting the ex killed. Taki comes out to her dad, then discovers he's having an affair with Sarah, gets rebuffed by the girl she's fallen for in London, and gets grabbed by the Yakuza. Yuto reveals that he's known that Kenzo has kept secrets about the night that kickstarted this whole ridiculous chain of events from him, all whilst he recruits Kenzo's wife in Japan to free his fiance and child from the grip of a Yakuza boss (a Yakuza boss who is also his to-be father-in-law). It all sounds a bit ridiculous, but it works so very well. It's riveting and lands us on a roof, in Soho, with various guns being pointed at various people, and Taki suicidal on the ledge of the building.
And then they're doing a beautifully choreographed slow dance number, characters weaving together and apart in black and white to classical music. It's great and frustrating all at once, leaving you unsure if Taki has died or not and, personally, left me so bewildered I couldn't really focus on what was going on. And then everything ends. I mean, they wrap things up, but some parts just don't get wrapped up as neatly as other parts. Kenzo saves Taki, which is good, and release Yuto to go find his (now genuinely free) family, which is also good, but then turns himself in to the police to save Sarah, which doesn't make any sense to me. Had they both decided to turn themselves in, maybe that works, but honestly, at this point, no one suspects Sarah but her dying ex, so she's in the clear and all Kenzo has to do is flee the country.
Back in Japan, we get the absolutely brilliant twist that the stupid, butt-of-the-joke British cop that was sent out in the personnel exchange that they orchestrated to get Kenzo into the country in the first place is himself a double agent, working for the British gangsters as an insurance policy against the Yakuza. It's a genuinely fun retcon that gives some added suspense to the resuce of Yuto's family and offsets the quite dark conclusion to the Yakuza war, which is also dealt with deftly as both scheming family heads are killed off to restore the peace. All of that gets my thumbs up and also provides a very obvious ending for Kenzo: we now have the British police with circumstnatial evidence holding a Japanese policeman, and Japanese police with fairly solid evidence holding a British policeman. A prisoner swap seems in order, but we never get it 🤷♂️
That's all followed by a slightly ambiguous ending to Yuto's story as he seems to meet up with his family in Paris, though it could all be a daydream (but maybe that's the point here), whilst we get zero updates on Kenzo's wife or mother. And, probably most annoyingly, whilst all of this is going on, we get teased with a suicidal Rodney who ultimately just ends up at home, with a caring yet slightly selfabsorbed mother and a lot of understandable emotions going on. It feels like his character may come out of things the strongest, and given how much he is a bystander just caught up in this whole mess, that feels fair, but it also means he's just written out of proceedings. For such a core and interesting storyline about British subculture, it feels a shame to end on a flat note.
Which is all to stay that Giri/Haji is a beautiful, clever, riveting show with a brilliant cast, buckets of wit and charm, and a whole heap of really interesting production/direction techniques that set it apart even more, but I'm not sure it quite sticks the landing. It's far from a mess of an ending, in fact resolving an awful lot well, but it isn't a perfect landing. It's more like it gets both feet on the beam, but then the knees buckle a bit more than they should.