The cause and effect of Giri/Haji

Have you ever dropped a stone in a pond and watched the tiny waves circle out until they crash at the edge? This is the ripple effect. Where one action over time has such a large impact on an entire community that the origin cannot be denied. Like our stone, which sank to the bottom, we cannot undo the initial action. But we can take action to prevent a repeating situation in the future. Since the most important metric is time, it sometimes is hard to find the root cause of the effects you are witnessing or experiencing.

When you’re negatively impacted by the effects, you are more likely to take a counter action versus the situation where the effects on your life are negligible. Today I’m looking at the British-Japanese co-production Giri/Haji. Where one man’s action leads to the disruption of multiple families and even the power balance of an entire city. 


In Giri/Haji we follow Tokyo police detective Kenzo Mori. He is sent to London to investigate the murder of a Yakuza member. The man in London was murdered with the sword of the biggest Yakuza boss of Tokyo, yet not by his hand or instruction. The sword was stolen from boss Fukuhara by Kenzo’s brother, Yuto. Yuto was part of Fukuhara’s gang. Fukuhara and Kenzo’s superior suspect that Yuto is the killer but there is one problem: Everybody thinks Yuto is dead…

Left without choice, Kenzo travels to London to search for his brother. He leaves his father, whose health is failing, and his disobedient daughter in the care of his wife. His goal is to find Yuto and prevent a war between the Yakuza families. The question is if Kenzo can fulfill his duty or if the shame of past events will catch up to him.

Spoilers ahead!

Ticking clocks

In the initial episodes of Giri/Haji we get the urgency of the matter. If Kenzo cannot resolve the situation soon there will be a Yakuza war in Tokyo. One that will lead to many victims, including Kenzo’s own family. The show plays with multiple story/plotlines to great effect. Especially in the initial episodes there is this feeling of a ticking clock which impacts the decisions that Kenzo makes. He is on edge because of the situation in his family and the fact that his brother still may be alive.

Thus Kenzo makes some choices that are not very smart. Yet they are understandable for a man in his situation. Alone in an unknown city and another culture. Where you cannot rely on things that you know. And where, over time, old shameful memories come back. 


I like how the show plays with consequences. Like Fukuhara says: “Someone threw a stone in a pond a long way away, and we’re only just feeling the ripples.”

While Fukuhara refers to the killing of the Yakuza in London with his stolen sword, there is a much earlier decision which set all this in motion. It is arguably Yuto’s decision to become a Yakuza, but given his nature that wouldn’t be out of the ordinary. I’m referring to the one very clear moment in Yuto’s storyline that set him on this path. Namely, the moment when Jiro commands Yuto to pick up Fukuhara’s daughter, Eiko. Jiro thinks he’s too important to be a mere bodyguard and chauffeur, while Yuto wants to prove himself by fulfilling this responsible task. The eager and charming Yuto is undoubtedly a breath of fresh air for Eiko and they fall in love. 

This single moment has such an impact on the other characters that it cannot be denied. While it initially doesn’t seem like much, it causes a disruption with all the other characters. In order to spend more time with Eiko Yuot becomes more invested in the Fukuhara Yakuza family. Which as a consequence marks him as the black sheep of the Mori family.

On the other side there is boss Fukuhara, who does not want his daughter to marry a Yakuza. His decision to remove Yuto from the picture leads to a dissatisfied daughter; a stolen family heirloom (the sword); and eventually his death and the fall of his family.

“Every tiny split second decision we make can potentially have a profound effect on everyone around us.” 

Sarah Weitzmann

Finding family

In Giri/Haji there is a straight followup between events which all relate to the themes of family and responsibility or duty to that family. There are many groups of people that call themselves a family. Some related by blood, others by a common cause. And there are families which are formed by a group of lonely people. 

Giri/Haji shows a clear distinction between types of family. While groups like the Yakuza are very good at adding lone wolves to their ranks, they always demand something in return. Something which is usually not in accordance with the law. 

A family related by blood can be comforting and suffocating at the same time. At some point two people found each other and started one. But living together and placing expectations on another can be suffocating. 

As an example I would give Taki, who doesn’t feel at home in Tokyo. She feels freed of the expectations placed upon her when she’s in a different country and culture on the other side of the planet. At home, she’s the daughter of a police detective. In London, she’s just a girl. A girl who, like her father, connects with a bunch of people during her stay. A connection of lonely people who all share a need of love, of family. One that has expectations, yet not so much that they become suffocating. A family that doesn’t demand any outrageous action from your part. In this family, you are allowed to make mistakes. You are after all a good person who did a bad thing. You only need to be honest and carry the consequences of your actions. As long as you do, this family will care for you.