Giri / Haji (Duty/Shame) cast shed light on their characters

What’s it about?

Giri/Haji (Duty/Shame), a soulful thriller that explores the butterfly effect of one murder upon two very different cities, sees celebrated Japanese stars Takehiro Hira and Yosuke Kubozuka leading the Japanese cast. They play Kenzo (Hira), and Yuto (Kubozuka), once devoted and now estranged brothers, driven to opposite sides of the world by the spiralling consequences of one violent split-second decision. They are joined by Masahiro Motoki, Yuko Nakamura, Aoi Okuyama, Mitsuko Oka, Togo Igawa, Katsuya and Yoshiki Minato.

The UK cast sees Kelly Macdonald (The Victim, Boardwalk Empire, T2 Trainspotting), Justin Long (New Girl, Live Free or Die Hard), Will Sharpe (Flowers), Charlie Creed-Miles (Ripper Street, Peaky Blinders) and Tony Pitts (Jamestown, Peaky Blinders) line up across a bitter divide. Kenzo (Hira), a Tokyo detective and family man, is abruptly dispatched to London by his superiors in the police department to search for his missing younger brother Yuto (Kubozuka), the honour of his family at stake. Arriving, he becomes drawn into the shadowy world of Abbott (Creed-Miles) and Vickers (Long), a once lucrative business partnership now under threat, as the former looks now to the East to expand his empire. Distant from everything familiar to him, Kenzo unexpectedly finds hope in a remarkable makeshift family of Londoners, each in turn confronting the tumultuous, spiralling effects of fateful past decisions. Among them is charismatic rent boy Rodney (Sharpe) and Sarah (Macdonald), a Met detective investigating the London murder, who begins to present a delicate threat to Kenzo’s marriage.

The action moves between Tokyo and London, as Kenzo attempts to stem the violence engulfing both cities and to confront his own part in it

Takehiro Hira on Kenzo:

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How would you describe the character of Kenzo?
“Kenzo is a determined man, who is willing to solve all his problems and fulfil his responsibilities, but I guess he’s really a lonely man. He has all these problems at work, and also filial obligations, but he doesn’t have anyone to talk to. He’s all bottled up, like a typical Japanese man! [Laughs]  I really saw a lot of things I have in common with him. We’re both in our 40s, asking, “Where am I gonna go with my life?” I also have filial obligations in my family, although I can talk to my wife about it.  But I have to face that every day, and because of that I guess I feel lonely, in a way.  However, I don’t have a brother who is a screw-up like Yuto! [Laughs] Also, I’ve lived in two different worlds. For me it’s Japan and the US.  For Kenzo it’s Japan and England.  So I did relate to him a lot when I first read the script.”

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How truthful and accurate did you find Joe Barton’s portrayal of your homeland?
“I was so impressed by his understanding of the culture.  For example, there’s a scene in Episode 1 where I am visited by the Yakuza boss and then the police chief shows up at the end of the conversation and he orders me to go to London. He says, “Sorry to bring the bad news, but…” And I say something like, “No one likes giving bad news”. And Julian (Farino, the director) had a hard time understanding why Kenzo would say that. But for me, it’s perfectly Japanese. I wouldn’t think twice about it, you know?

We did have some hard times with the translation, to be honest. We worked a lot beforehand in preparation, but on the set on the day, when we rehearsed, some things sometimes didn’t feel right in the translation.  Little nuances on the text didn’t match, or didn’t translate well.  So we went back and forth with Joe and the director, it was a challenge, but one we enjoyed.

We had lots of locations in London, so it was amazing shooting in Soho with 300 extras in the middle of the night.  For me as a Japanese actor, the things we did in Tokyo were like nothing I’d ever heard of.  One time we had this rain machine on the middle of an overpass, right in the centre of Tokyo, and we could never ever get permission to do such things. Yet somehow we did it.”

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The relationship between Kenzo and Yuto forms the heart of Giri/Haji.  How was it
creating that with Yôsuke?
“Yôsuke? He’s a character. I love him so much. He’s really honest. It was just really easy for me to work with him.  I still see him, back in Japan.  We went out drinking just the other day.  He’s a fun guy.”

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What was it like working with Kelly Macdonald, who plays Sarah, with whom Kenzo
develops a close relationship?
“She’s a wonderful actress, and she was such a nice person. She was just open to me. Of course I’ve seen her work, and I was a bit nervous, because this is only the second time I’ve acted in English, and the first time in London, a new environment, a new way of things for me. And all the actors were great.  Just watching them on the monitor, sometimes I felt a bit insecure [laughs].”

Was it a tough shoot for you?
“It wasn’t so tough physically.  In Japan, you work 36 hours a day sometimes [laughs]. But it was demanding in the sense I was breaking out of my comfort zone. But Julian helped me a lot. He does pretty much all the scenes in one take. He doesn’t break it up into bits, he runs the whole thing from top to bottom, and that helped me. Every day was like training for me. But in a good way.”

Yosuke Kubozuka on Yuto:

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Yosuke says he was drawn to the dual aspects of Yuto’s character – “his past, upbeat self and his present, darker self — as well as the vulnerability of a conflicted man who is at the mercy of fate.”

WhatsApp Image 2020-02-19 at 3.36.34 PM (1)How do you feel the title of this series — which translates to “Duty/Shame” — applies to Yuto, specifically?
“It applies to everyone to an extent, but I think the two words are expressive of the conflict between the duty Yuto feels towards his family, to his boss and to those around him, and the shame which stems from those relationships.”

What was it like for you, working in London?
“It became a place where I’d really like to live. The people are kind, and since it’s also an island nation, felt familiar in some ways. The big parks, even in the inner city, make it child friendly, too. Above all, I was struck by how many beautiful places there were.”

Did the language barrier create any challenges on set?
“Each day came with its own challenges, but communication with the crew grew better every day, which gave me confidence and pride in my own work.  I’d like to improve my language skills and be the kind of actor who can work internationally.”

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What was it like shooting the huge shoot-out sequence in Episode 4?
It was overwhelmingly intense. We used real guns, so it was far more nerve-wracking than I expected.  It was like an indoor fireworks display! (Laughs)  I could hope for nothing more than for many people to see it, relate to it and be provoked by it (the show), then to use the positives and the negatives to fuel a second season.”

Kelly Macdonald on Sarah:

WhatsApp Image 2020-02-19 at 3.36.34 PM (2)There’s a very memorable, quite surreal moment in the first episode when you have to deal with a snake in your letterbox. What was that like to shoot?
“It is surreal, because it’s all on its own and never actually fully explained [laughs]. We actually had to reshoot the snake scene with a different snake, because our snake on the first night was just… Just lazy, frankly. It didn’t want to move at all, so it looked like a fake
snake. The handler was there and they were fine with it, but I kinda had to poke it a bit through the mesh of the letterbox catcher and it wasn’t bothered. It wasn’t fussed at all [laughs]. It was a super laid-back, super-chilled snake.”

Was there ever a sense of culture clash on set, working with Takehiro Hira, and Aoi
Okuyama?
“There was no clash. I think I was a really bad influence on them in the end!  We did a good few week filming in Sarah’s flat, and Tak and Aoi had a real problem with walking into the house and not taking their shoes off [laughs]. Both just in life, and in questioning their characters being Japanese and coming in and not taking their shoes off. That’s something that would not occur to me.  Obviously.  Because I’m British.”

How were you a bad influence on them?
“Because I spent most of my time with Tak, I think I made him just rude and sarcastic and cheeky. At first he was super-polite, and then he was taking the piss like a true… [Laughs] Well like me, basically.  So yeah, I think I was a bad influence.”

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Did you learn anything from the Japanese cast?
“I speak no Japanese, but I can actually say one thing now. Which I said constantly. It was one of my lines in the script where I was learning how to say, “It’s all going to shit,” but in a very polite Japanese way.  So the Japanese actors would be talking on set, and I would just stroll past and say it, and they would think it was hilarious [laughs]. Because it was the only thing I could say and I just said it all the time.”

Will Sharpe on Rodney:

Will describes his character Rodney “as a peacock that you find in a skip”.  A sex worker, addict, despite a bravado we see vulnerabilities that trickle through from time to time through the season.  “He has a self-destructive streak which he buries under humour. He uses his sense of humour as a defence mechanism. And he is one of the characters who ends up colliding with Kenzo (Takehiro Hira) and forming this slightly odd, hotchpotch, makeshift family.”

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It’s interesting that you liked how he uses humour as a defence mechanism, because on your series Flowers, you deal with serious subject matter in a humorous way, as a writer.  Is that why Rodney and Giri/Haji chimed with you?
“Yeah. Also, Rodney’s half-Japanese. I’m half-Japanese; he has a destructive streak in him. I think I have a bit of that in me.  But his sense of humour gave me a very clear way in. So it felt like I could do a good job with him.”

As someone who is half-Japanese, half-British, do you feel the show handles the
meeting of those two cultures well?
“I think so. One thing I find quite interesting about Japanese and British culture is how they’re different, and how they’re the same. We’re both countries where we don’t talk about feelings very readily, and so the way certain things are communicated is through gestures; you’re quietly doing something that will mean something, rather than just saying it.  And I felt like that’s there in these scripts. It’s an extraordinary undertaking, but the production was very sensitive to the need to make it feel authentic. I wasn’t part of the block that went to Japan, but it didn’t feel like there was the Japanese half of the production and then there was the British half. Everyone was mixed in together, like one big family.”

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