‘Golden Kamuy’ Netflix Review: An Entertaining & Poignant Film About The Repercussions Of War


War films have always been used to generate nationalist sentiments so that the public doesn’t look at the harmful aftereffects of the bloodshed and vote for the party in power that apparently took the country to new bloody heights of glory. Most of these movies put a lot of effort into recreating the battle scenes and crafting the most tear-jerking moments in the history of cinema, thereby forcing the most level-headed people to say that, “Well, the filmmaking was really good.” They end up making a lot of money, thereby making it the go-to genre for guaranteed box-office hits and effective propaganda. But there is a light wind of change (you can call it a breeze of change) where filmmakers are looking beyond the carnage and jingoism. Michael Bay highlighted the pathetic state of war veterans in Ambulance. Park Chan-wook has adapted The Sympathizer to talk about the impact of the Vietnam War on Vietnamese people. And now, all the way from Japan, we have Golden Kamuy.

Shigeaki Kubo’s Golden Kamuy, which has been written by Tsutomu Kuroiwa and is based on the manga series by Satoru Noda, opens in 1904 at 203 Meter Hill, China, to introduce the protagonist, Immortal Sugimoto, who is fighting in the Russo-Japanese war. The narrative abruptly jumps forward in time by two years to show Sugimoto walking all alone through the snowy landscape of Japan and checking out river streams for gold that he hopes to sell and make ends meet. That’s when he comes across a vagabond who randomly starts telling him about Ainu’s rumored gold, which was stolen by a bloodthirsty killer named Noppera-Bo and hidden somewhere in Hokkaido. While bidding his time at the Abashiri Prison, the monster tattooed the coordinates of his treasure on the bodies of around 24 inmates and told them that whoever found it would get half of it. Armed with this knowledge, Sugimoto sets out to find the inmates and the gold and ends up in a world of trouble.

I haven’t read Noda’s manga series. I haven’t watched the anime series. I haven’t watched the trailer for the film in question. So, when I pressed play on Golden Kamuy and saw an extensive war scene, I was immediately turned off because I am not a big fan of stories that glorify and fetishize senseless bloodshed. But as the narrative progressed and the focus shifted to the topic of how the government deals with war veterans and pushes them to take up desperate measures to stay afloat, it won me over. When it highlighted the direct connection between nostalgia for military dictatorship and calls for modern forms of autocracy, I was impressed. And as soon as the film started talking about the erosion of indigenous cultures and the capturing of land by government authorities, I was convinced that this was one of the best movies of the year. Kuroiwa has peppered the script with moments of levity and action. However, the way he reckons with his country’s horrifying past while reflecting on the never-ending cycle of genocides and wars that humans partake in, despite being aware of the finiteness of life, is sobering.

Golden Kamuy looks and feels immersive. From the first frame to the last, I was transported to 1900s Japan. The clarity of the cinematography, the colors, the efficiency of the editing, the sound design, the score, the costume design, the make-up—all of it has been beautifully orchestrated by Shigeaki Kubo. The CGI and the VFX are out of this world. You can pick up any scene featuring the bear and the wolf, and I swear, you will undoubtedly wonder if the filmmakers have used real animals or fake ones. However, I think most of the snow in the film was real, especially in the outdoor sequences. That makes the action sequences seem all the more impressive. Constructing complex set pieces in controlled environments is hellishly difficult anyway. To do it on something as unpredictable and unwieldy as snow is insanity. So, kudos to Kubo, the actors, the camera operators, and the stunt team for seamlessly pulling off the impossible. That horse carriage fight is one for the history books. The only two complaints that I have are that the movie has pacing issues and that the costumes rarely reflect the amount of damage that’s being inflicted on the characters.

In terms of the performances in Golden Kamuy, the whole cast is perfect. Kento Yamazaki’s blend of stoicism, sentimentality, unhinged madness, and unbridled love for food is so enjoyable to watch. Anna Yamada exudes sincerity and kindness. I like how she makes sure that Asirpa never feels like a violent individual but someone who has to resort to violence because of the world she lives in. Yuma Yamoto is hilarious. It’s really difficult to translate slapstick comedy from manga and anime to live-action. I’ve seen many actors try and fail. But Yamoto makes it look like a walk in the park. Despite his short screen time, Gordon Maeda is quite impactful. Shuntaro Yanagi is scary, but in a fun way. Hiroshi Tamaki undoubtedly steals the show. It’s easy to underestimate the power of your eyebrows until they’re covered while you are acting in a feature-length film. So, it was fascinating to watch Tamaki express so much malice while wearing a porcelain cover on his forehead. Hiroshi Tachi doesn’t look like a real person. It seems like he has walked out of a manga page and into this film. The rest of the supporting cast is great, and all the stunt actors deserve a massive round of applause.

Even though I have sat with this film for quite some time now and I have written this whole article, I don’t think I have quite digested the fact that an anti-war story like Golden Kamuy exists as a manga series, an anime series, and now a feature film (which is soon to become a franchise). It’s educational, funny, action-packed, and yet so poignant about imperialism, indigenous culture, the aftereffects of war, and more. And that just makes me hate all those movies and series that milk acts of genocide and colonization to create an atmosphere of hypernationalism more than I do already. Of course, something like Golden Kamuy won’t fix everything that’s wrong with the world or erase Japan’s spine-chilling history. But it goes to show that art and entertainment can be used to center the discourse around the things that matter so that at least some people can be motivated to be better than what the world wants them to be. Anyway, that’s a roundabout way of saying that, please, watch Golden Kamuy on Netflix.

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Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit loves to write about movies, television shows, short films, and basically anything that emerges from the world of entertainment. He occasionally talks to people, and judges them on the basis of their love for Edgar Wright, Ryan Gosling, Keanu Reeves, and the best television series ever made, Dark.

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