「猟師の魂」 (Ryoushi no Tamashii)
Sugimoto is hunting a deer. He will kill the deer. And then he will eat the deer. But while he’s doing that, he doesn’t want to hurt the deer. There seems like there should be contradiction in there somewhere, and perhaps vegetarians will find cause to protest. For the Sugimoto, though, I think it’s just a matter of where he draws his lines. It must be an ethical thing, because otherwise chasing the deer until it bleeds out does seem to be a perfectly effective way to hunt. Even when pursuing prey that are not wounded, the simple human ability to run around for a long time is one of our only natural advantages over wild game. Just our ability to sweat is incredible; many four-legged beasts, like deer (or your dog) pant to release heat, but they can’t pant while they gallop. Humans though, we sweat, and can do that even as we jog. So basically a (sufficiently fit) human can chase down a deer until it overheats. Before the invention of our overpowered weapons, killing stuff quickly and mercifully wasn’t easy. Mostly, we outlasted them.
But Sugimoto is just one of many hunters in this episode, and they all bring their own background and philosophy to the discussion. Asirpa has her Ainu spirituality. Tanigaki has his Matagi ways. Nihei Tetsuzou is just a bag of testosterone. But this is about more than how these people get their food. The larger point is about the human condition, about what their practices say about what we are as a species. Hunting is innately animalistic, a bloody contest between man and beasts that will, in the decades after the events of Golden Kamuy, be made obsolete by the efficiencies of modern agriculture. But is that right? Do humans ever ascend about primal animal instincts? Nihei would argue, no. He talks about following ‘the law of the mountain’ over the constructs of society. He is a nihilist who lives for momentary thrill and only aspires to fall back into the foodchain. In contrast, we have Asirpa, and we have seen that hunting has a special place in her culture. The deer are connections to their gods, and hunting about more than killing and consuming. No common animal prays over their meal. So, perhaps, this is proof that there is more to the human soul than just savagery.
But all this contrasts with the war Sugimoto had just finished fighting, and the PTSD that he apparently suffers. He has killed many. Throughout the course of this series, on the search for this gold, he may yet kill more. And manslaying in Golden Kamuy has always been portrayed as being brutal. Nihei may perhaps argue that brutality is natural. But Tanigaki remembers that the Matagi pay their respects to every bear they hunt. No such respect is given to the soldiers he killed. And perhaps that’s the point that Golden Kamuy is trying to man. Hunting may seem uncivilised, or crude, or bestial. But it is when man kills man that we are most devoid of humanity.