2019, TV

Giri/Haji (2019)

This is a creative, ambitious and extremely frustrating TV show about a Japanese police officer sent to find his AWOL brother in England in order to prevent a war among the Yakuza. There are things about it that are phenomenal and there are things about maddening, and I’m really not sure what to do with it. My rating feels a little harsh but also generous, depending upon which scene I’m thinking of. I can honestly say I’ve never seen anything like it.

Let’s start with the good: I’m not sure I’ve seen another 8 episode TV show with this level of character development among its main characters. This show takes its time with these characters to a degree few other shows do, especially crime dramas. This is an ensemble piece and all but one of them (one of the minor members of the ensemble) feel like real people with real lives. It’s incredible.

And the production values are excellent: the show is stylish and extremely ambitious. There are moments in the show that are really, really well done from a production standpoint and many that I would probably really enjoy aesthetically if I wasn’t so annoyed by the plot and the extremely uneven execution of the ambitious creativity. It’s clear to me this was made by talented people.

Also, there are some genuinely funny moments in the show, even though it is very much not a comedy. It’s always good to have a little bit of comedy in a show or movie that is otherwise so serious and this has that. It’s a good amount – enough that it feels natural.

And, as Jenn said, we never knew what would happen next.

Though I like the character development, I found most of the characters incomprehensible. I think if I were to describe the actions of the main characters to you we would both agree that they made no sense and really didn’t have any basis in reality, more often than not. I cannot make heads or tales of the motivations, despite the mostly excellent acting in the show. There are so many poor decisions, but most of them don’t feel like believable poor decisions to me.

There are multiple montages, and they look good. But they feel a little bit like showing off and I don’t know that they add to the story. They often feel too busy – you’ll know what I mean when you get to the one with four different things happening in it, in multiple presents. And at least one of them is encumbered by extremely clunky pseudo-philosophical narration which adds nothing to it. More than once I was wondering why they chose to tell the story the way they did, even though it looked good while they were doing it.

And then there’s the brief and arbitrary use of alternative storytelling techniques, one really early on and one at the climax. I am very open to avant garde ideas in narrative film but one thing I ask of filmmakers is that they apply them with some kind of sense. But in this show they just pop up briefly here and there and there’s no method to the madness. I don’t hate the idea of using either method, I just don’t like the way they’re used.

It does feel as though each episode was directed by a different person and that person was given carte blanche to do what they wanted. (It was directed by two people, so maybe I am just detecting different styles between those two.)

But, at bottom, I found myself conflicted about every single episode. Every episode I would find myself thinking “this show is pretty damn good” and then, before it was over, something would happen where I thought “What the fuck?” and usually not in a good way. I think of one episode where they completely had me – they won me over -and then there was a “Part 3” I absolutely hated. This was an extreme reaction compared to other episodes but I still find it representative – I don’t think there was a single episode that didn’t both contain scenes I found sublime and scenes that made me want to turn it off.

And so I can honestly say that, though I was endlessly frustrated, it was unlike anything else I’ve ever seen. It was never boring and it’s probably worth your time.

6/10

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