I recently finished watching both seasons of Golden Kamuy and, let me tell you, what a wild ride that was! Set in the wilderness of Hokkaido during the aftermath of the Russo-Japanese war, at times it is reminiscent of a History Channel/Natural Geographic documentary, especially with its emphasis on the indigenous Ainu people, their culture, and belief systems. But, at other times, it feels a lot like Hokkaido’s answer to Food Wars (with its near sensual depiction of the Ainu dishes) or to JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure (with its cast of buff manly men and its propensity to throw logic straight out the window). Watching it was an experience like no other. I couldn’t recommend it highly enough. Anyway, today I would like to talk about its hero and my favourite of its many characters: “Immortal” Sugimoto.
One of the many reasons why I like Sugimoto is that I just love the relationship that he has with Golden Kamuy’s heroine: Asirpa. They first meet when she saves him from a bad CGI bear. Asirpa and Sugimoto may not have much in common (least of all their height), but the two hit it off right away and form an unlikely partnership. The reason why this duo is so great is the rapport that they share. Despite the challenges that they both face on a daily basis, they’re almost always laughing together and cracking jokes at the other’s expense (usually about eating poop). And, in light of the relatively short time that this duo have known each other, their teamwork, which is second to none, is all the more impressive. They’re weirdly in sync and always have the other’s back against the threats that they face. It doesn’t take long for the pair to open up to each other, either, about their pasts, their hopes, and their dreams. I suppose that getting snuggly inside of a deer carcass will have that effect! But what I like the most about them is that, based on what we’ve seen so far, there’s little chance of romance blossoming between them. Rather than attraction, their partnership is based on trust, mutual respect, and a deep understanding of who the other is. They’re soul mates, but without any of the messy trappings of romance!
You’re probably wondering why, if I like Sugimoto and Asirpa, I’ve chosen to write about the former and not the latter. It wasn’t an easy decision, especially given my love of kick-ass women, but Sugimoto narrowly won the battle for “best character” for two reasons. The first is that I love the tolerance, fascination, and appreciation that he has for the Ainu people, their culture, and belief system. Even back during the early 1900s, the Ainu’s beliefs would have seemed a little… archaic… Take, for instance, their belief about bears – that if they treat them well the gods will send the Ainu more prey to hunt. Even with the limited understanding of the natural world that was available to them, such a belief could be easily disproved. But when Asirpa describes this belief to Sugimoto, instead of trying to disprove it, he shows the utmost respect by listening intently. He even gets visibly excited over their many rituals and practices (such as the way in which they give thanks for their food) and tries to take part in them himself. It is no wonder that he is such a hit with the Ainu! I think that if people were as open-minded and respectful towards other cultures and belief systems as Sugimoto, the world would be a much nicer place!
The second reason stems from a conversation that takes place between Sugimoto and Asirpa during the show’s second season. Whilst taking shelter from a raging snowstorm, Sugimoto reflects on the time that he spent fighting in the Russo-Japanese war, the lies that he told himself to get by (like how his enemies didn’t feel pain like normal, good people), and how the whole experience changed him. Asirpa asks him if he, and the other soldiers, were able to return to who they used to be before the war once they had quit fighting. Sugimoto struggles to answer this question, so she switches tack and asks him: “What do you love?” Sugimoto conjures up an image of his favourite snack: dried persimmons, something that he hasn’t been able to eat since before the war. Asirpa suggests that maybe if he can eat dried persimmons again, he’ll return to who he used to be before the war while Sugimoto tries his best to hold back tears.
I love this scene! It takes an indestructible man, a man who’s been shot, stabbed, and mutilated several times throughout the show (and lived), and makes him vulnerable. He’s no longer “Immortal” Sugimoto, but a man pining for a simpler time when he could enjoy his favourite snack with his two closest friends. It also paints a picture of a man holding out for healing and for wholeness. It proves that even the manliest of men can be both strong and weak. He’s basically Guts, but for the more modern audience!
And that’s why “Immortal” Sugimoto is my Character of the Month! Tell me, what do you love about this awesome character? Hope to hear from you soon!