June 23, 2024

Golden Kamuy 2024 Movie Review

Golden Kamuy
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Golden Kamuy 2024 Movie Review

Considering the success of the homonymous, multi-awarded manga by Satoru Noda and the quality of the anime, one of the best series of the last few years, a live-action adaptation was bound to happen. The recent release on Netflix follows the first season of the manga and stays quite close to it.

As I wrote in the anime review, “Golden Kamuy” is a rather different shonen title, which stands out by focusing on an Ainu character, while highlighting the language, culture, and customs of the indigenous people, supervised by Hiroshi Nakagawa, an Ainu language linguist from Chiba University.

Saichi Sugimoto (nicknamed “Immortal Sugimoto” for escaping death multiple times but also for his savage fighting style), a veteran of the Battle of 203 Hill in the Russo-Japanese War hears a dubious story about a hidden trove of Ainu gold, the location of which is hidden in the tattoos of a group of convicts who escaped from Abashiri Prison. When he discovers that the story is true, and that multiple other groups are in pursuit of the gold, he decides to search for it. Asirpa, a young Ainu girl, saves Sugimoto from being eaten by a bear and they partner up to search for the gold together, as the girl’s father seems to have been involved in the case.

As the two travel together, Asirpa introduces Sugimoto (and the audience essentially) to the Ainu ways, as they meet various foes and friends while searching for the treasure, with Yoshitake, a tattooed Abashiri convict and master escape artist also joining them eventually. Their path however, is anything but easy, since two different factions also seem to be hunting for the treasure. The 7th Division, the most fearful one in the Japanese Army, headed by the sociopath first lieutenant, Tokushiro Tsurumi, seeks to use the Ainu gold to lead a coup d’état to form an independent Hokkaido. Toshizo Hijikata, former leader of the Shinsengumi, plans to use the gold to fund the secession of Hokkaido and creation of a second Republic of Ezo, and has already signed up Shinpachi Nagakura, another Shinshengumi captain and Tatsuuma Ushiyama, a rather fearful judoka.

The fact that the synopsis of the first season of the anime and the movie is essentially identical highlights how close Shigeaki Kubo stayed to the original, although some rushing is to be expected, considering he had to condense 12 episodes into a 128-minute movie. The first thing anime and manga fans will notice here is the loans from various samurai anime, with Sugimoto sharing many similarities with Manji from “Blade of the Immortal“, Tsurumi with Shishio from “Samurai X“, while Hijikata has been a recurring persona in a number of similar titles.

At the same time, the shonen premises are here once more, as the movie is filled with brutal action, including a rather impressive war scene in the beginning, and humoristic breaks. These last, however, are as annoying as in the anime, once more implementing the pedantic humor of similar titles including absurd behaviors, extreme facial shifts, and characters that have no relation with any kind of reality. Tatsuuma Ushiyama is one of the most prominent samples, as is Yoshitake Shiraishi, whom Yuma Yamoto presents in clowning fashion.

However, “Golden Kamuy” stands out for a number of reasons. First, the action in this case also includes a constant battle against nature, and particularly animals like bears and wolves. This adds a different note to the usual, man-against-man style of shonen anime as all factions seem to have to face this aspect apart from the rest of their ‘issues’. Furthermore, there is a distinct educational level in the narrative about the ways of the Ainu, which are presented in as much detail as possible. This approach includes their language, culture, religion and most entertainingly, their culinary habits. This last aspect is additionally implemented in comedic fashion, with the fact that the Ainu seem to eat most of their food raw offering a number of hilarious scenes, as much as Asirpa’s disgust of miso. At the same time, these elements allow Kubo to analyze his main characters much more, through their differences in ways of living and how their interactions change them both.

The action aspect is also impressive, with a number of ‘big’ scenes standing quite out. The introductory one is the most massive, but the ones that feature bears, the one in the snow, and the appearances of the white wolf are also bound to stay on mind. Occasionally the SFX do falter, particularly when animals are involved. In general, though, the audiovisual aspect works well, additionally because Daisuke Souma’s cinematography has captured the mountainous setting in rather impressive fashion. Lastly, the scene with Sugimoto’s interrogation will remind many of Takashi Miike, in another memorable moment here.

The acting also follows the path of the anime, even if Asirpa is much younger there. Kento Yamazaki as Sugimoto alternates between the buffoon and the cool hero convincingly, in a rather likable character. Anna Yamada as Asirpa looks equally cute, knowledgeable and dangerous, with the antithetical chemistry with Yamazaki being quite entertaining to watch. Hiroshi Tamaki as Tsurumi is both paranoid and cruelly calculating while Hiroshi Tachi as Hijikata plays the noble villain with gusto.

The dramatic parts could have been handled in better fashion as do the flashbacks, which are not exactly placed in ideal moments. As a whole, however, “Golden Kamuy” is definitely a film worth watching, both for the adaptation and the unique elements of the original.

Golden Kamuy 2024 Movie Review