Valuing the human person always: A review of the series “Giri/Haji”

Quiet Storm by Fr. Nick F. Lalog II, 15 January 2020

From The Times.

Now streaming at Netflix is this excellent original 2019 BBC production, Giri/Haji (Duty/Shame), a Japanese story of two brothers set almost entirely in London seemingly inspired by French existentialist writer Albert Camus with closing scenes set in Paris.

Midway through the series, one notices right away the complexities or, absurdities of life that one cannot simply categorize it between “duty and shame”, or good and evil, right and wrong, black and white.

It is a series that hits our innermost core when we find ourselves in those gray areas of confronting what we believe as right and just versus the value of every human person that Camus beautifully expressed in his 1947 novel “The Plague”:

“A loveless world is a dead world, and always there comes an hour when one is weary of prisons, of one’s work, and of devotion to duty; and all one craves for is a loved face, the warmth and wonder of a loving heart.”

Albert Camus, The Plague

Like most Netflix series, Giri/Haji is rated 18+ for its violence, language, substance, and nudity but everything is done beautifully and artistically.

It is a masterpiece that shows some common threads among us humans regardless of our color and culture, gender and age, belief and language. How the creators were able to perfectly blend these all with the excellent cinematography, music, and fine prints into uncluttered and pure simplicity of Japanese Zen principles are a work of art and film genius.

Simple plot but very personal and universal

The plot is simple: an elder, straight brother is a cop with a younger brother who is a Yakuza member hiding in London after being presumed dead when he got the daughter of his boss pregnant. He staged his revenge in London where he killed a Japanese executive with the knife of his former boss that had sparked a war among Yakuza families in Tokyo that was going out of control. Cop-brother comes to London to bring his gangster brother back to Japan to atone for his sins so that peace is restored among the Yakuzas.

Along the way, the two brothers’ stories converged with the stories of three other main characters that provided the many uneventful twists to be united by the element of deaths in various forms and circumstances.

From Google.

Giri/Haji honestly confronts our basic issues of love and acceptance so lacking or taken for granted in our own families that lead to a host of so many other problems and situations like drugs and other crimes, infidelity and promiscuity, as well as homosexuality and sexual orientations.

What is so unique with the series is how it was able to take these sensitive issues as subjects to be seen in relation with persons, not as objects to be studied or examined apart from anyone that it becomes more of an experience, not just an entertainment.

Giri/Haji is so personal, you can feel yourself “slashed” so you experience the subjects’ pains and hurts, longings and desires, dreams and aspirations.

Like the samurai blade that can cut through almost anything, the series hits you at almost every turn that you find yourself laughing and weeping without realizing that along with the characters, you have also laid your soul bare for serious self-confrontation and examination about your very self and the people around you in the relationships you keep as well as skipped or taken for granted.

Death and new life

There is no glorification of evil and immoralities but Giri/Haji invites us to see these as realities in our imperfect world that must be seen more with our hearts than with our minds and convictions. The series contrasts the Western frame of mind of morals as codes to be followed to the minutest details that slashes even persons into categories with the Oriental point of view of seeing morality in the totality of the person.

How it is resolved in the end is amazing!

And despite its genre being crime and violence, I would still say Giri/Haji is so lovely, even quaint and as Japanese as it can be especially with the depiction of changing of seasons that peaked at autumn.

Despite the dark and gloomy nature of the topics of death in all of its forms, there is the radiance of hope always that will lead to new life. The series teems with other symbolisms and signs including great music selections that add intensity to its drama and tragedy that make us hope the new season comes soonest.

For the meantime, listen to the beautiful music theme of the Giri/Haji by British singer Tom Odell.

Take my mind
And take my pain
Like an empty bottle takes the rain
And heal, heal, heal, heal
And take my past
And take my sense
Like an empty sail takes the wind
And heal, heal, heal, heal

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