Giri/Haji – Not Your Average Japan-related Drama

While Giri/Haji (‘Duty/Shame’) was first released on BBC, it is also available via Netflix. Although I had heard some good things about it, I resisted watching it. I’m not sure why exactly – probably as I feared that it could be yet another series that would play up on exoticising Japan in some way (and as much as such programmes can be useful for some of my research, such as those I discuss in Japan: The Basics (and may discuss further in the updated version), I struggle to watch them, as good as it can be to watch something Japan-related).

What I should have done was pay more attention to the review of Giri/Haji by Peter Tasker in Japan Forward. You can read the full review here, but I wanted to pick out one bit which I feel is particularly pertinent…

It brings out the commonalities. Indeed, cultural melding and blurring is the major theme, personified in the character of half-Japanese rent-boy Rodney Yamaguchi, played by the half-Japanese Will Sharpe.

In the words of writer Joe Barton, “The thing about Japanese culture is how many similarities there were [with Britain], and how that comes across… ideas about behavior, how people see you, politeness, the front that we put on, all this stuff.”

In relation to the above, it should be noted that, in my view at least, the character of Rodney (who would probably been quite at home in the recent hit series It’s A Sin) steals the whole series.

At present Giri/Haji has an average of 7.9 on IMDb, which is well-deserved. Don’t get me wrong – it’s not without its faults (the bizarre scene on the top of a building in the final episode being one that didn’t work for me), but it would be wrong to dwell on this.

As someone who writes novels that have a large percentage of Japanese rather than English-speaking characters, and I try to write, in a similar way to Giri/Haji, so that they don’t play up the idea of Japan being exotic and different, I take pleasure in seeing a series that has been widely watched being as good as this.

I do wonder whether those who have not studied Japan will appreciate all aspects of what is presented in Giri/Haji, but on the whole it does well, across the series, in helping to tie together aspects of many people’s behaviour and thinking. My particular favourite is the following clip from Episode 6.

If you’ve not watched Giri/Haji yet, I suggest you give it a try.

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