Giri Haji TV Show

Giri Haji was commissioned by the BBC in 2018 and made by the same company that produced HBO's mini series, Chernobyl. The show aired on BBC 2 and Netflix but was poorly marketed and received little attention. That's a shame because it's one of the best TV shows in years.

The show is themed around two brothers, one of whom, Kenzo, is a Tokyo detective; the other, Yuto, is a Yakuza assassin who works with gangsters in London. The show starts with Yuto murdering the nephew of a Yakuza boss in London, which sparks a drive-by shooting at a Yakuza dinner party in Tokyo and the likelihood of more violence to follow.

Giri Haji is stylistically more interesting than anything else I've seen on TV, but the artiness never overwhelms or feels misplaced. Gorgeous nighttime cinematography in and around London's Piccadilly and Leicester Square anchors the production and imbues it with authenticity. The look and feel is embellished by ultra-widescreen flashbacks, animated sequences, theatrical rain showers, magic realism, split screens, black and white shots, and manga-style recaps.

Some of the dialogue is outrageous and straight out of a Japanese comic or graphic novel. But the delivery, as with most of the acting, always feels natural rather than strained. There are also several comic touches that help lighten the mood and build character depth.

Giri Haji TV Show

Giri Haji: The Story

After the murder in London and drive-by shooting in Tokyo, Detective Kenzo is visited at home by his Chief Inspector and a Yakuza boss. The Yakuza, named Fukuhara, believes he was the intended target of the Tokyo massacre and tells Kenzo it was orchestrated by Kenzo's brother, Yuto.

Fukuhara and the Chief Inspector then inform Kenzo that he is to go to London the following morning to find Yuto and bring him back to Japan. To maintain his cover while in England, Kenzo is told he'll be sent there as an exchange student on a crime scene management course.

Woven into this narrative is a series of flashbacks revealing Kenzo and Yuto's backstory. In one flashback a tearful Yuto tells Kenzo he's just been involved in a botched robbery attempt at a Tokyo bookmakers. The security guard is dead and Yuto's accomplice shot and wounded. Kenzo heads off to the bookmakers, removes evidence that Yuto was there, shoots and kills Yuto's accomplice, and stages the crime scene to make it look like he was shot by the security guard.

This astounding British import is a crime drama that takes noir to the next step in its evolution. What's especially memorable are the many artistic risks the show takes to elevate the story above its generic roots. A spectacular last-episode climax becomes a slow-motion ballet that is both emotionally moving and visually captivating.

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After flying into London, Kenzo meets his course tutor (a Scottish detective) and an English-Japanese rent boy whose help he enlists to track down a club where he thinks he'll find Yuto. Kenzo also breaks into the luxury apartment where Yuto stabbed and killed the Yakuza's nephew a few days earlier.

More characters are introduced and the plot intensifies. Kenzo is tracked by a black female assassin who warns him to leave London or he'll be killed. He meets Yuto and asks him to return to Japan; Yuto refuses, and insists that Kenzo go back alone. Kenzo then learns that his daughter has been expelled from school and has flown from Tokyo to London to see him.

Episode three ends on a climax. The London gangster Yuto works for is heading off to a restaurant in Soho. Unknown to him, he and his men are about to be ambushed by an American mafioso's son and a crew of heavily-armed Albanians. A police officer sees what's happening and requests backup. The scene is now set for what the BBC described as the Battle of Soho.

Giri Haji TV Show

Giri Haji: Episode Four

Episode four is the highlight of the show. It kicks off with the London gangsters being chased out of their restaurant, and then cuts to a long sequence revealing how Yuto became a Yakuza gang member. In one scene, Yuto is forced to atone for his previous wrondoings by slicing off the tip of his little finger – a practice known in Japan as yubitsume.

Originally produced for BBC Two and distributed internationally by Netflix, Giri Haji is an uncommonly smart show that stitches together two variations of the crime genre: the British gangster flick and the Yakuza epic. The end result is an elegant cross-cultural production that not only feels radically new but diligently captures the thrills of both its inspirations.


The episode ends with a montage of scenes voiced over by a monologue that questions the nature of life, reality and fate. It's beautifully done and serves not only to wrap up the Battle of Soho, but to show how Yuto escaped the clutches of his Yakuza boss in Tokyo and fled to London. The episode also introduces Yuto's girlfriend and sets up storylines for the remaining instalments.

Giri Haji TV Show

Giri Haji vs Tokyo Vice

I started watching Giri Haji soon after finishing the first season of Tokyo Vice. I figured the show would be a logical progression, albeit filmed mostly in London rather than Tokyo. But the differences are stark. When placed side by side, Tokyo Vice ranks a distant second, and that's despite its frequently stunning depiction of Tokyo's neon nightlife.

Both shows abound with themes of honor, responsibility, love, regret, family and cultural differences. But while Giri Haji handles these issues with intelligence and maturity, Tokyo Vice is very lightweight. And then there's the acting. The American lead in Tokyo Vice (Ansel Elgort) is very poor and hard to overlook. Giri Haji suffers no such weaknesses. Acting is commendable throughout.

Giri Haji is a single-season show spanning eight one-hour episodes. It's packed with artistry and originality, and there's a fair amount of action, too. If you're in the market for something very different and have an interest in Japanese culture, Giri Haji is well worth a watch.

UPDATES. Yakuza crime syndicates are as active as ever, it seems. In February 2024 news outlets ran a story about a Yakuza boss, Takeshi Ebisawa, who was arrested in Thailand after trying to sell uranium and weapons-grade plutonium he'd sourced from Burma. He was busted by an undercover DEA agent posing as a proxy for an Iranian general. At the time of writing (March 14), the perp is awaiting trial in NYC.