‘Golden Kamuy’: A Thrilling Action-Adventure Encapsulating War, Treasure, and Heart

By Daniel Hart
Published: May 19, 2024 (Last updated: last month)
Kento Yamazaki as Saichi Sugimoto in Golden Kamuy on Netflix for review
Kento Yamazaki as Saichi Sugimoto in Golden Kamuy (2024) (Credit - Netflix)


Live-action Golden Kamuy is a sneaky hidden gem that was released globally. It’s refreshingly epic and will make new fans of the story along the way.

Originally a manga, Golden Kamuy has enjoyed adaptations. In addition to getting a popular anime series, the Japanese story has been adapted into a feature-length live-action movie that’s enjoyed a theatrical release in Japan and a global release on Netflix. Admittedly, I felt slightly anxious about the Sunday release date (because why are Netflix stuffing it at the end of the week?), which led to me being pleasantly surprised. Golden Kamuy is as good as any global tent-pole action-adventure movie, with good production values.

For those unaware of the story, Golden Kamuy is set during the Russo-Japanese War. Saichi Sugimoto (played by Kento Yamazaki in the live-action) is a seasoned war veteran and seemingly immortal (although his near-misses do appear comical). His post-wartime experience turns into a quest to find ancient gold of the Ainu people, eventually joined by an Ainu woman called Asirpa (played by Anna Yamada).

They come across a man with a coded map tattooed on his body; many fleeing prisoners like him have similar tattoos, giving the location of the gold. Saichi wants the gold, and Asirpa wants vengeance for her father, a miner who was killed in an act of betrayal when retrieving the famous Ainu gold. Asirpa vows to join Saichi on his quest, only if he does not kill.

I’ll stop there because while the premise extends itself in other sources, much of the plot surprises newcomers, including myself, who enjoyed the magical storytelling. What caught me initially was the value of the production. There’s a lot of love for this story, and it shows in the opening minutes, when it’s all-out war, revealing the seemingly immortal nature of Saichi (nicknamed “Immortal Sugimoto”). War is the catalyst for all events — the movie shows the struggle between soldiers that war can bring, a running and valuable theme running amongst the quest for gold.

But it’s also quite obviously a tent-pole movie that Japan enjoyed, too (it earned £3.4 million in its opening weekend and quickly became the country’s number one movie), making this an event film more than a thematic moral story. The chemistry between the characters, especially Saichi and Asirpa, is heartwarming. There are funny jokes and quips — there’s a feeling that they need each other for different purposes, and that development grows throughout.

But don’t be complacent, either; while Golden Kamuy is lighthearted, it also contains elements of darkness and violence. It does not push boundaries, but director Shigeaki Kubo wanted to take the adaptation of the story seriously. It’s 20th-century Japan, after all, so it shouldn’t be entirely pleasant.

With sweepingly good shots and great action set-pieces, Golden Kamuy gains a second wind by the third act. The team behind the movie has found balance, ensuring each act has its respect. I was half expecting the historical action movie to sag eventually, but the characters’ charm translates to an efficiently engaging movie, complimenting the 2-hour runtime. There’s a particular moment when Saichi and Asirpa have a problem with their language barrier, and when Saichi presents her with miso to add to their tasty meals, she thinks he is eating poo. Is this the best joke ever? No. But sometimes, it’s good to find dumb humor when you expect things to be dumb.

And when you feel that you cannot get enough, the movie’s final act confirms one thing: there will be a sequel. And it’s not a dramatic cliffhanger either, but it’s more of an ominous interlude ready to take this story into an assumed trilogy. Also, if you cannot stand waiting and feel tempted like me, there are four anime seasons so far. I’m saying that Golden Kamuy deserves more than a sneaky Sunday release on a global streaming platform. We are lucky to watch this highly engaging and cinematic movie at home.


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