Giri/Haji (Netflix)

Contributing editor: Marna Owen

Last week when I told The New York Cynic that I was enjoying the Netflix series Giri/Haji, (Duty/Shame in Japanese), The Cynic remarked that she, too, had initially liked it and then did not. Undeterred, I watched all eight episodes and now find myself solidly on the side of the Cynic.

What’s to like:

Edgy camera work and slick anime in flashback scenes; Japanese yakuza (gangster) warfare, including a ritual that requires one to cut off half a finger for atonement; a complicated plot that required me to pay attention instead of dozing off after a day of trying to avoid fires and pandemic anxieties; scenes shot in Tokyo and London, two cities that I love; and compelling characters, most of whom I wanted to live happily ever after. (Most don’t.)

At the center of the drama are two brothers. The eldest, Kenzo Mori, is a detective who is sent by his police chief and the yakuza to bring back his brother, Yuto. Yuto murdered a gang member in London and now must pay with his life in order to stop the ensuing gang war. Will Kenzo bring back Yuto to Tokyo and a certain death, or help his brother survive? Duty and shame seem to go hand in hand, no matter what choice Kenzo makes. 

Relationships and family dynamics turn upside down at the death of Kenzo and Yuto’s father in Tokyo while his sons wreak havoc in London. A shout out to the Mori women in Tokyo who, in my favorite part of the series, rise up in their grief and give us a taste of true family loyalty, as well as a tour of the Japanese countryside in autumn.

What’s not to like:

Too much plot thickening. Kenzo’s teenage daughter arrives in London searching for family stability and identity. Yuto, also a yakuza, had a love affair with his boss’s daughter in Tokyo resulting in a very cute baby but royally pissing off his boss. In London, Kenzo falls in love with a Scottish detective who, despite all her meekness, reminds us that love hath no fury like a woman scorned. And on and on and on.

Weird stuff: a snake and a brick with no clear owner; a slow motion choreographed dance (you’ll have to get to the end of episode 8 to see it); recurring “You Owe Me” signage that pops up at odd times and reminded me of the eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg in The Great Gatsby. The final resolution between the brothers left me disappointed and feeling “meh”.

Online sources say there is no second season planned. That’s OK with me.

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