Tag Archives: Giri/Haji

Victory lap

While Chernobyl became a record-breaker, there were some significant surprises at the Virgin Media Bafta Television Awards 2020, which were held in a Covid-safe form over the weekend. DQ spoke to some of the winners.

For the cast and crew of Sky and HBO coproduction Chernobyl, the awards keep on coming. In addition to the seven prizes it received at the Bafta Television Craft Awards a fortnight ago, the production’s two wins at Friday night’s Virgin Media Bafta Television Awards mean the compelling five-part drama has won more Baftas than any other show in a single year.

Produced by Sister, The Mighty Mint and Word Games, the show about the 1986 nuclear meltdown was named best miniseries on Friday night, with star Jared Harris claiming the best actor award. This came after it picked up craft wins for director: fiction, editing: fiction, costume design, original music, photography & lighting: fiction, production design and sound: fiction. Chernobyl has now won a total of 60 awards since it aired in May 2019, including two Golden Globes and 10 Primetime Emmys.

But though Chernobyl might have been the runaway favourite, there were plenty of surprises in store during the socially distanced ceremony, which had been delayed by the Coronavirus pandemic and saw nominees taking part remotely. As the awards were announced, DQ spoke to some of the winners in the scripted categories about their work.

Jared Harris as Valery Legasov in Chernobyl

Miniseries: Chernobyl
Leading actor: Jared Harris, Chernobyl
The two wins completed a record-breaking year for Chernobyl, in which Harris play Valery Legasov, who led the investigation into the nuclear disaster.

Craig Mazin, creator and writer: “There were two things I drew upon initially. One was the firm belief that I did not want to tell a disaster-movie version of this. The disaster itself is not what’s fascinating, but how people precipitate disasters, how they respond to them and how the worst of our human instincts can create them and the most noble aspects of our spirit are what’s required to defeat them.
“I also wanted to start with both my hero dying and the reactor exploding. We don’t live in a time where you can go four or five weeks and have people be surprised in episode five when Legasov dies or when the reactor explodes. We all have Google and Wikipedia and it’s important to not pretend people don’t know things. The trick is to say, ‘I’ll tell you right upfront, he’s going to die and that thing is definitely exploding. You don’t have to wait for it.’ What’s fascinating to me is how people react in the immediate aftermath of those things.

Harris, who revealed now retired actor Daniel Day-Lewis was the first choice to play Legasov: “[Making the series] was a huge task. [Director Johan Renck] used to talk about, ‘We just have to eat this elephant one bite a day. You can’t think about this whole journey that we’re on.’ I’m sure on the production side they would have liked more time but what they had and what they did it with, it was masterfully pulled off.
“Johan was very keen on us not to act out or overplay the drama of the crisis. He’d say, ‘Craig’s taken care of that for you, so we don’t have to describe the stakes to the audience. The tighter we can keep it and the more contained we can keep it, it’s going to hold the tension a lot better and a lot longer.’”

Drama series: The End of the F***ing World
Supporting actress: Naomie Ackie, The End of the F***ing World
Season two of Channel 4 and Netflix coproduction The End of the F***ing World beat strong competition from The Crown, Gentleman Jack and Giri/Haji to win the evening’s biggest prize, while Ackie was completely taken aback by her win over fellow nominees Helen Behan (The Virtues), Helena Bonham Carter (The Crown) and Jasmine Jobson (Top Boy).

Creator and writer Charlie Covell: “2020 feels like the end of the fucking world, so maybe it’s the appropriate time to win this. The pressure [returning for season two] was quite a lot. We had source material for the first season and this was us inventing it ourselves. I work with this amazing team – Clerkenwell Films and Dominic Buchanan Productions – and Ed Macdonald, Emily Harrison and Andy Baker and I sat and storylined it for the best part of a year-and-a-half and then we got to do it.
“It was hard. We didn’t know where to take it initially, but Netflix and Channel 4 gave us the time to make sure we got it right, which was great. You never say never [to season three] but it’s good to quit while you’re ahead and I’m really pleased with where we left the characters. That’s it, I’m afraid.”

Ackie, who plays Bonnie: “It feels incredible to have played a character struggling with her mental illness so strongly and, on top of that, the intersection of that being a black woman and struggling with mental illness is heavy and the empathy that comes with that is sometimes quite lacking. I am so unbelievably grateful to have played a character that inspired that kind of empathy for that kind of character in the people who watched it and voted. I’m very happy for myself, but more so for the team behind it. We all worked so hard together to create a show that felt grounded and of the world of The End of the F***ing World.”

BBC3 single drama The Left Behind

Single drama: The Left Behind
From the Bafta-winning team behind Killed By My Debt and the Murdered by… films, the factual drama tells the story of a young man with no secure job, housing or future as he is drawn towards the far right and becomes involved in a devastating hate crime.

Joseph Bullman, director: “It’s not exactly a feel-good movie, but BBC3 gave us the opportunity to make that film and we’re eternally grateful to them. It’s a story about what’s happening in our country, and there aren’t that many people with the cojones to commission a film like that.
“When you look at the far right in our country, there aren’t that many far-right groups in [wealthy London areas like] Hampstead or Chelsea. If you look at the support for those movements, it almost mirrors a map of our left-behind communities, the people who have been left behind, the post-industrial communities. We knew we couldn’t go to individuals and make a documentary about them because there would have been consent and duty-of-care issues, so Alan and I got really marinated into research of this world.
“We weren’t trying to give people from that political point of view a platform, but we were trying to see the world as they see it. They’ve been ignored for too long.”

Alan Harris, writer: “It is a difficult film, it’s a difficult watch and we purposefully put together a film that wasn’t an easy watch for the audience. It asks a lot of questions. There’s no right or wrong and we’re not taking any sides. We achieved what we set out to achieve, which was to have a little bit more understanding about the central character, if not sympathy.”

Glenda Jackson as Maud in Elizabeth is Missing

Leading actress: Glenda Jackson, Elizabeth is Missing
Returning to the screen after 25 years, Oscar winner Jackson picked up her second Bafta for her startling portrayal of a woman struggling with dementia as she sets out to uncover the mystery behind her friend’s disappearance, leading the past and present to collide.

Jackson: “The technicalities have changed dramatically since I last did a film, but you never have to work for the camera’s attention. I was blessed with a marvellous cast, a great company to work with and a wonderful director, and the story itself comes from a wonderful book.
“It’s a subject which is of particular interest to me because it’s waiting for us all. As a society, we are living much longer and these diseases were unheard of when I was a child because they come with old age. We as a society have a duty to really examine how we are going to care for the elderly when they get to the situation where they have to be cared for.
“Perhaps one of the benefits of the coronavirus pandemic is social care has gone up the political ladder. As a society, we have to acknowledge these terrible illnesses are here to stay and we have to look at how we combine to ensure that, when they strike, the sufferer is not thrown in the pit.”

Will Sharpe accepting his award remotely

Supporting actor: Will Sharpe, Giri/Haji
Sharpe was honoured for his performance as Japanese-British sex worker Rodney in the BBC/Netflix coproduction Giri/Haji, created by Joe Barton, which tells the story of a Japanese police officer who comes to the UK in search of his brother amid rising tensions between gangs in Tokyo.

Sharpe: “Joe created in Rodney a person who had a really large appetite for life but had a lot that got in the way for him. Maybe that’s relatable for a lot of people. Even though in some ways he was quite a tragic character, his way of dealing with everything was with humour, and he’s a character I thought on the page was quite infectious to be around, even when he was creating chaos. He’s quite a big personality.
“We had a trip to Hastings [on England’s south coast during filming], as part of the story was they went to the British seaside and there’s a dual burial/ritual for [police officer] Kenzo’s father. In the story, it’s when this hotchpotch family really starts to come together. It also felt a bit like that for us filming it, so that felt very special.”

Sian Clifford (left) and Phoebe Waller-Bridge in Fleabag

Female performance in a comedy programme: Sian Clifford, Fleabag
Clifford (also pictured top) beat Fleabag star and creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge to this prize for her portrayal of Fleabag’s uptight sister Claire in season two of the acclaimed comedy drama.

Clifford: “Claire is Phoebe’s brainchild but was a character she wanted to see me play. She wrote a sketch that was two sisters, one of whom was Claire. She sent me the script on my birthday in 2009 and said, ‘Which one do you want to play?’ She wanted me to say Claire, and I fortunately did. I didn’t perform it with Phoebe initially; she didn’t want to perform her own work. Eventually, we forced her hand. And when we did a showcase for producers, we always brought that scene out and it was always their favourite.
“I’m very lucky she took that character and made her Fleabag’s sister. Phoebe’s very generous and not precious about her work, so she was always encouraging me to contribute. There was no discussion about how to play her; she absolutely trusted me but, at the same time, there would be discussions on set about what worked and what didn’t. But that would more be done with a look, rather than a discussion.”

Fiona Wade (foreground) and Katie Hill in Emmerdale

Continuing drama: Emmerdale
First airing in 1972, the soap opera set in a Yorkshire village previously won this award in 2001 and 2017.

Jane Hudson, executive producer: “It’s a real privilege and an honour to win this. It’s such a crazy time for everybody. Honestly, anyone who’s managed to return to shooting [following the coronavirus lockdown] deserves an award, and the soaps are the first ones to get back. Us, Coronation Street, EastEnders, Hollyoaks, Casualty and Holby – all of us are finally getting the recognition we deserve because we’ve gone back, we’re doing it safely and we’ve set a standard for people to follow and have been able to help and advise people. Hats off to all the soaps at the minute for doing what we’ve been able to do.”

Fiona Wade, who plays Priya: “We’re just incredibly thankful [to return to production] with everything going on in the industry at the moment. We’re in very strange times but, from the first day going back in, our safety has come above everything. To be able to carry on doing what we love and to bring the show to everyone, I’m incredibly grateful and thankful.”

Bafta Television Special Award: Idris Elba
Actor, writer and producer Elba was presented this award in recognition of his acting career and his commitment to championing diversity and new talent in the industry. He rose to fame in acclaimed HBO series The Wire and is also known for playing the lead role in BBC crime thriller Luther. Off-screen, he founded production company Green Door Pictures in 2013 with a focus on inclusion and opportunity for undiscovered filmmaking talent.

“I’ve maintained I’d like to see Luther come back as a film; that’s where I think we’re heading towards. I’m looking forward to making that happen. It is happening – I’m hoping that’s going to happen soon. With a film, the sky’s the limit. You can be a little bit more bold with storylines, maybe international, a little more up the scale. But John Luther’s always going to be John Luther.
“We’ve all got a duty to ‘each one teach one’ and give others an opportunity. I wouldn’t be here if someone didn’t think I had some talent and gave me a shot. You’ve got to pay that forward or at least look over your shoulder and see who’s coming up. That isn’t that difficult, it doesn’t cost much money, it just means you’re just looking out for new talent and giving them an opportunity.
“I definitely feel I want to direct a lot more, I want to write a lot more. I’ve been producing now solidly for five years and I love it. It’s a really slow burn: you plant your seeds, you cultivate your land and it comes up really slowly but it’s really satisfying. I love acting and I’d like to win a Bafta as an actor one day.”

Other scripted winners included:
Scripted comedy: Stath Lets Flats
Male performance in a comedy: Jamie Demetriou, Stath Lets Flats
International: When They See Us
Must-see moment: Gavin & Stacey, Nessa proposes to Smithy

tagged in: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Chernobyl cheer

Though the ceremony might have been taken place online, there was still plenty to celebrate at 2020’s Bafta Television Craft Awards, especially for the makers of Chernobyl. DQ spoke to some of this year’s winners.

A remarkable year for TV drama and comedy, 2019 will be remembered for a host of standout shows. Succession, Sex Education, His Dark Materials, Game of Thrones, Fleabag, Top Boy, The Virtues, Killing Eve, Giri/Haji, The Trial of Christine Keeler, Peaky Blinders, Killing Eve, The Crown, Good Omens and The End of the F***ing World all combined to keep audiences glued to their screens.

But one series stood out above the rest, if the winners of this year’s Bafta Television Craft Awards are anything to go by. At a digital event celebrating the work of those behind the scenes, the runaway winner was Chernobyl, Sky and HBO’s five-part miniseries that dramatised the harrowing true events of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in April 1986. It won seven awards: director – fiction, costume design, production design, editing – fiction, original music, sound – fiction and photography & lighting – fiction.

The Chernobyl production design team line up on set

Other scripted winners on the night included BBC and HBO fantasy drama His Dark Materials, which claimed the awards for title & graphic identity and special, visual & graphic effects.

Succession creator Jesse Armstrong scooped the award for best fiction writer, while actor and comedian Aisling Bea won the breakthrough talent prize for writing This Way Up. Liz Schiavo was presented with the award for make-up & hair design for her work on Peaky Blinders, while Des Hamilton accepted the first Bafta casting award for Top Boy.

Following the online ceremony last Friday, which included an array of eye-catching pre-recorded acceptance speeches, DQ spoke to some of the winners fresh from their awards success.


Director – Fiction: Johan Renck (Chernobyl)
Swedish director Renck helmed all five episodes of the Sister Pictures and The Mighty Mint production, which was written by Craig Mazin (The Hangover parts 2 and 3).

“For me, the visual aspect of what we do is tremendously important. I really believe in embracing something that is emotional on a different level from the more pragmatic side of it. It’s all about what the images can do, combined with everything that’s going on, to convey a feeling. It’s about trying to put people in an emotional place that coincides with the emotional place I feel it should be, and creating a photographic language as well as everything that’s on paper.

“The great thing here is you have such a phenomenal script, you don’t have to solve anything. You only have to add to what’s already there, so that was one of the great blessings of this project. My job in adapting these pages into imagery was a lot easier because there were no problems to solve, only stuff to add and perhaps deepen the feelings I felt were important.

“Craig and I are very different. He’s very American, I’m very European in all senses. We became a very good combination because we both fed each other stuff and became something special. We have a great relationship. We gave each other all sorts of freedoms and ideas that went back and forth between us. I really enjoyed our process, and he and I will most likely do things onwards again.”


Costume Design: Odile Dicks-Mireaux (Chernobyl)
Dicks-Mireaux, who previously won a Bafta for 1999 film Great Expectations, was in charge of dressing lead actors Jared Harris (Valery Legasov), Stellan Skarsgård (Boris Shcherbina), Emily Watson (Ulana Khomyuk) and Jessie Buckley (Lyudmilla Ignatenko), as well as dozens more cast members and extras.

“The big thing was to try to do the Russian look better than anyone else had done it – even better than the Russians and Ukrainians, because they had done a [dramatisation of] Chernobyl. I was very lucky with my assistant Daiva Petrulyte in Lithuania because she really wanted to do that as well. Then you meet Johan and Craig and they want to do it as well, so you know straightaway the direction you are going.

“What’s really important is to understand what it was like to live in Russia at the time and what access you had to clothes. It’s hard to get your head around the fact they didn’t have any of the access we had in Europe. It was all factories within the [Soviet] bloc, so that’s what they had.

“Their creativity to get around that was to make their own clothes. Then you discover the fabrics they could get hold of were polyester. Normally I’d go for natural silks, but suddenly here we were in the world of polyester, which was quite a new adventure. We went round all the costume houses we could in the East, in Prague, Belarus and Ukraine, so we got to look at the real things they were buying.

“Johan wanted this chaotic, unorganised costume design, particularly in the military. We were going to have the shirts made in a factory, but suddenly we had to make them ourselves. I’d done a lot of research on what Russian shirts looked like and how badly made they were, and [ours] came out badly. They looked terrible, but Luckily Jared and Stellan didn’t mind. They were on our side.

Jared Harris as Valery Legasov in Chernobyl

“With the characters, you’re trying to get an essence of the [real] person and get it to work for that actor as well. The glasses were quite a tricky one to achieve on Jared because they’re so important to the look of Legasov. Stellan is an incredibly elegant man. We had to enlarge his jackets so he looked a bit more blocky and more ugly. There were times we were worried – it swayed in the wind because it was quite a bit wider than he is. Emily very much wants her clothes to help her be her character. Getting the right costume for the right scene was very important for her.

“We bought a lot of stuff on eBay – original Russian watches and original patterns for the medical wear. It was incredible.


Luke Hull and Claire Levinson-Gendler accept their award via video

Production Design: Luke Hull and Claire Levinson-Gendler (Chernobyl)
Production designer Hull and set decorator Levinson-Gendler recreated the scale and scope of the nuclear disaster on location in Lithuania.

Luke Hull: “I thought I knew what Chernobyl was but, when I read the scripts, it was something completely different. They were so well written and interesting. Off the back of that, we met with Sister Pictures, Craig and Johan. The biggest concern was how we would make it as ambitious as possible to realise the scope and scale of Craig’s writing.

“There was also the added pressure in realising this story was only 30 years ago. When we were making it in Lithuania with people who had lived through this, the added importance of doing justice to this story [became clear]. It was a hard project, but everyone on the team threw themselves into it because they knew it was quite special.”

Claire Levinson-Gendler: “When you do a period piece in the 1800s, you do your research and look deeply into it, but you know there’s no one walking around saying, ‘I didn’t live in a street like that.’ With Chernobyl, it’s a completely different thing. You know there are people who survived that and survived it with trauma, so there’s quite a lot of responsibility to get that right.

“We’re not trying to do a documentary, we’re trying to do a drama, we’re trying to make art. We want to make something people also want to look at, but Luke has a design vision for it and you have to respect people who experienced that time. There is a pressure to it, definitely.”

Hull: “There was a lot of location work, which I love. The sheer scale of creating the reactor and the destruction [was a challenge], and the task we set ourselves was making that very fluid, so we would have one huge composite set you could move within entirely. Although the [story-ending] trial looks simple, we were trying to get that down to something that felt authentic to the reference images but also conveyed this hot, sweaty, grungy, real atmosphere. They’d been in the trial for weeks. Those things we really obsessed over.”


Writer – Comedy: Jamie Demetriou (Stath Lets Flats)
Demetriou created and writes the Channel 4 comedy – and plays the title role – about an incompetent estate agent working for his father’s company. Season two aired in 2019.

“The writing process is very much character-driven – it’s about ensuring each character feels distinctive but primarily funny. It turned out that, to make something funny, you have to give it some kind of heart, which we tried to do. Season two was about ensuring the characters all felt like people the audience would be able to side with occasionally, despite their stereotypically deeply unlikeable profession.

“My producer, Seb Barwell, is such an essential fixture in the writing process, pitching and being a sounding board. Robert Popper, the genius behind Friday Night Dinner, is my script editor, and he wrote the first three episodes of season one with me, so he’s a crucial part of the process.

“Knowing the cast and the way they play the characters, and having faith in them to deliver the lines the way they do, is a huge part of the process. Knowing there are unbelievably capable performers at the other end of the script process makes it so much easier.

“I always thought that if I ever made a show, I would want to improvise the whole thing. But in reality, if you want to tell a story, you have to make sure the scripts are tight. Writing jokes that will be funny over and over again, it’s really just staying true to what you find funny. You can’t guess. There’s nothing I look at in the scripts and I go, ‘Yes, that will be funny forever.’ It seems funny to me while I’m going mad, sat on the floor facing the wall in the corner of my bedroom, so hopefully it will be to the masses.”


Scripted Casting: Des Hamilton (Top Boy)
Crime drama Top Boy returned to Netflix for a third season in 2019, six years after the first two seasons aired on UK broadcaster Channel 4. The cast is headed by Ashley Walters (Dushane) and Kane Robinson (better known as British rapper Kano, who plays Sully).

“My first thought when [I found out Top Boy was returning] was that the core characters would be coming back, and it was all talent I rated very highly and was proud to have worked with. When I saw the scripts, I felt a tremendous sense of responsibility to bring in new people who could hit that level alongside them.

“[Creator] Ronan Bennett had written incredible material and I felt a responsibility to try and populate it with talent as good as the writing. For this kind of material, you wake up in the morning and fly out of bed, desperate to go to work. You’ve got all these new faces coming in, new energy. People are really up for it. Going into it, it felt really good.

“I came into the world of casting in a very haphazard way, when director Lynne Ramsey asked me to help with some street casting on a [2002] film called Morvern Callar. I didn’t really get to read the script for a while; I had character descriptions. So I never had set ideas about characters as they were described, and I found that a useful tool along the way, trying to remain blank when you read the script so you remain open to more interesting casting.

Kano (left) and Ashley Walters in season three of Top Boy

“I knew Ashley Walters as I’d worked with him before and he’s a friend. I found it hard to shake him out of my head. I wanted him for Dushane, but that’s not my job. My job is to offer the director, the producers and Ronan a nice selection to hopefully give them a headache of choice.

“I really felt Ashley was very natural. He knows the world, he knows the language. He’s got an assuredness whereby he’s not railroaded by dialogue. He’ll bring his own stuff to it. He’ll bring his own experience to it, and very often that brings about a certain magic because he’s immersed in it. Then when we met Kano, you’re always looking for impact casting and I felt there was that potential incendiary spark between Ashley and Kano.”


Giri/Haji star Takehiro Hira

Scripted Casting nominee Yoko Narahashi (Giri/Haji)
Narahashi oversaw casting of the Japanese actors in this BBC/Netflix crime drama about a Tokyo detective who travels to London in search of his brother. Narahashi, Shaheen Baig and Layla Merrick-Wolf were all nominated for their work on casting the show, whose return for a second season is currently under discussion.

“When I started casting, we were trying to get specific and distinctive actors – that was very important. It was wonderful because I really value the quality of acting, whether the actors are famous or not. It didn’t matter. It was about whether they suited the role.

“Takehiro [Hira, who plays lead Kenzo Mori] is the son of very famous acting parents. Earlier in his life, he was rebelling against his legacy [by going to university in the US]. But when he came back and I met him, he wanted to study acting, so we worked together for a while. He started doing a lot of plays. Several years later, I saw him in a movie and I thought he had something very special, a certain dignity about him. His legacy was there – what his parents gave him was innate. He’s a wonderful guy. He auditioned several times. I just think he has this charisma. He’ll be an international actor.

“It’s amazing that Bafta has given an award for casting for the first time. I have many casting director friends in the US who have often complained about the fact there were no awards. However, I never cared about that, as I just like doing the work. I love it because I’m always looking for new talent. A role or a character is just something written on paper. No one tells you, ‘It’s supposed to be like this.’ You talk with the director and read the script, but it’s not as if it’s got to be someone specific. It’s an open field. When you have a great role and a great actor, the role is magnified and the actor’s qualities are also magnified. There’s a special quality when it’s a perfect match.”


Other scripted winners included:
Breakthrough Talent: Aisling Bea (writer, This Way Up)
Editing: Fiction: Simon Smith & Jinx Godfrey (Chernobyl)
Make Up & Hair Design: Loz Schiavo (Peaky Blinders)
Original Music: Hildur Gudnadóttir (Chernobyl)
Photography & Lighting – Fiction: Jakob Ihre (Chernobyl)
Sound – Fiction: Sound Team (Chernobyl)
Special, Visual & Graphic Effects: Framestore, Painting Practice, Real SFX & Russell Dodgson (His Dark Materials)
Titles & Graphic Identity: Elastic & Painting Practice (His Dark Materials)
Writer – Fiction: Jesse Armstrong (Succession)

tagged in: , , ,

Butterfly effect

From the makers of Chernobyl comes Giri/Haji, a drama set between London and Tokyo that explores how a single murder affects two cities. DQ visits the set of the Netflix and BBC series.

It’s a freezing cold evening in central London, where news crews and bewildered passers-by mill around, wondering what has just happened. It is the aftermath of the Battle of Soho, the action-packed set piece that sees the multinational cast of Netflix and BBC2’s Giri/Haji taking up arms in an explosive bout of score-settling.

This violent reckoning is the climax of events set in motion by a single murder in London that shatters the fragile truce between Tokyo’s Yakuza gangs. Dispatched to investigate is careworn detective and family man Kenzo (Takehiro Hira), chosen because of the suspected involvement of his wayward brother Yuto (Yosuke Kubozuka).

Once in the British capital, Kenzo is swept up into a dizzying world of uneasy alliances (with Kelly Macdonald’s lonely cop Sarah and rent boy Rodney, who actor Will Sharpe likens to “a peacock you find in a skip”) and dangerous foes (Charlie Creed-Miles’s remorseless British gangster Abbot and his weak-willed American ally Vickers, played by Justin Long). All will face the consequences of past decisions over the following eight episodes.

There’s a lot going on in Giri/Haji (which translates as Duty/Shame), from Bafta-nominated screenwriter Joe Barton (Humans). Blending Yakuza thriller and kitchen-sink drama, character study and even impressionistic animation, its very novelty proved irresistible to Macdonald, as did the opportunity to reunite with director A Child in Time director Julian Farino.

Giri Haji stars Kelly Macdonald and Kenzo Mori

“Julian phoned me up to ask if I’d read it,” she says. “I’d been told it was a Tokyo crime story that bleeds into London, but it’s so much more than that. It takes you off on unexpected tangents. The bonds that people share are unusual and it’s constantly surprising – all the more so, given Joe knew nothing about Japanese culture when he started, but that’s the confidence of youth, I guess!”

The initial concept was a loose one dating back almost a decade, inspired by Barton’s then-girlfriend taking a masters in forensic crime science and being intrigued by a middle-aged Japanese man sitting in silence at the back of the lecture hall. “It turned out he was a detective in the Tokyo police department,” says Barton. “There was something about that image that felt very cool and mysterious – it was an interesting protagonist for a high-end crime drama I might write in eight years time…”

Sister Pictures founder Jane Featherstone (Chernobyl) was intrigued, joining Barton to work up a script commissioned, then rejected, by another broadcaster. “I think they were afraid of how the Japanese element might land,” she says. “None of us know the answer to that yet, but both BBC and Netflix were excited by doing something a bit different. Netflix was keen to have something that worked in an emerging market like Japan, while the BBC, like all public service broadcasters, needs bold ideas to stand out more than ever.”

Those ideas are embodied by an opening 25 minutes featuring neither the English language nor anglophone actors. DQ finds the man required to carry much of those first scenes seeking sanctuary (and warmth) inside Soho Square’s Huguenot church. Largely unknown outside his native Japan, Takehiro Hira is excited about a role that could make his name internationally.

“Forty-something, family person, quite demanding parents – when I first read the script, Kenzo was me,” he muses. “Detective stories in Japan are usually black and white, but Kenzo has dark sides and personal baggage, which was so refreshing. I was giving a bit more than Julian wanted at first, so it was a wonderful challenge to learn to act more minimally than is usual on Japanese television.”

The show comes from Bafta-nominated screenwriter Joe Barton

Hira is supported by a stellar Japanese cast – not that the Giri/Haji team knew that while they were holding auditions. “We were completely ignorant!” laughs Farino, who split directing duties with Australian director Ben Chessell. “Masahiro Motoki [Yakuza boss Fukuhara] is one of Japan’s biggest movie stars and Yosuke is a huge name over there. I was struck by the unbelievable respect, precision and preparation of Japanese actors: they were word-perfect every time, which was humbling because not every British actor is like that.”

Thanks in part to Giri/Haji’s intentionally slippery grasp of genre, finding the tone wasn’t straightforward. “I get a lot of scripts where I feel I’ve shot them before I’ve finished reading them,” says Farino. “This was the opposite, a genuine journey – it respects the audience from the off. By degrees, you define it. Everyone has scars and moral complexity, but the pleasures were too great to make it noirish and miserable, and I didn’t want it too verité, so we didn’t go handheld.

“I describe it as a few inches off the ground, slightly heightened. [DOP] David Odd and I had never shot on such wide lenses before; we felt like we were shooting a wide shot and close-up at the same time.”

Two months filming in Japan proved a challenge both linguistically and logistically, but Farino, speaking not a word of Japanese, thrived on the experience. “It was an absolute pleasure. When you’re directing, you’re trying to get the feeling for a scene rather than hanging on the dialogue, so it felt surprisingly natural. We felt we were seeing little pockets of Tokyo you wouldn’t usually see, trying not to do the neon lights thing. It felt more like downtown Manhattan than Tokyo in the movies: washed-out browns and greys,”

“Tokyo isn’t easy to film in,” Barton adds. “In the UK, you can shut down a street for a bit and annoy everyone, but in Japan you can’t disturb people. The permissions process meant you needed a lot of time to set everything up; just finding somewhere we could put cars on a pavement was an incredible challenge. But weirdly, they’re very relaxed about firearms. In the UK, guys follow you around and lock up the gun when you’re not using it. In Japan, we filmed a gunfight in this big house and there were guns everywhere – you’d go to the toilet and there’d be one left by the sink. One actor was allowed to take one home to practice.”

The target for Giri/Haji was to stand out in a crowded landscape and break new ground for British television. “Very little British drama easily lends itself to epic,” says Featherstone. “We struggle with that in this country, but Joe found this cultural connection freed us up to think in a slightly different way about storytelling. We wouldn’t have been so brave if had been a purely British story.”

tagged in: , , , ,