「ヒグマ男」 (Higuma Otoko)
“Brown Bear Man”

Gosh, I love GK so much. I learn so many random historical tidbits, like glass digging and plantinum fountain pen heads. That mixed in with really bizarre characters and situations is part of what puts the Gold in Golden Kamuy for me. Our oddity for the day is Heita (performed to a T by Ishida Akira), a guy living out in the wilderness making his fortune by mining platinum (the “white” as opposed to the “red” of gold) for a pen maker.

At first, Heita seems like a harmless old guy- kind enough to let the gang in on where to pan for platinum, though with some strange tendencies. His companions seem nice enough too, if not a little seductive. Things start to get unsettling when Asirpa and Sugimoto realize that there are no bear tracks to be found, unusual for a wenkamuy that’s supposedly on the loose. That first sequence with the bear floating and exploding mid air threw me for a loop. I had to double check what show I was watching again- GK throws a lot of things into the mix, but sci fi has not been one of them. The strange behavior of his companions also tipped me off that something wasn’t right- Noriko and his brother seemingly plotting in secret, luring Mr. Hood into the bear trap. I started to wonder if Noriko and the brother were killing people disguised as a bear, with the bear costume concealed in the furoshiki. I was close, though still beyond my wildest imagination- I love how GK twists things into the weirdest angles.

With a well-timed cut to Toshiyuki and Kirowus discussing a former inmate, things start to make sense (hilarious to say, since the whole situation itself is extremely bizarre). A sneak peak at Mr. Hood’s drawing also lets the cat (or rather, bear) out of the bag. Turns out what Mr. Hood was eagerly drawing wasn’t some seductive chick in the woods, but a surprisingly buff Heita trying to put on some sexy moves (with a well-placed Ainu bear carving). In fact, all of his companions are played out in Heita’s mind, with a multiple personality disorder. I love how this was framed, showing us everything from Heita’s mind (though I would have paid dearly to see it through the gang’s eyes and the absolute absurdity of this guy putting on all these personas). And the bear- that was Heita too, at least in his head.

Perhaps too young and easily impressionable when he heard a half-cooked story about wenkamuy that scared the piss out of him, mixed with guilt at using the bear to kill his family, it pervades his consciousness until he believes he is the bear. He imagines himself exploding into reset mode after every murder he commits, bear-style, a hackneyed interpretation of the Ainu custom of killing wenkamuy and scattering the body parts. Noda really does love his whacky killer types. In the end, as is typical for GK stand alone characters, Heita goes out with a bang, caught in his own bear trap. The poor bloke seems happy to die, released from his un-bear-able torment. It doesn’t look like anyone thought to check the guy for tattoos (not that I blame them, I never suspected of him being an ex-inmate) and only Mr. Hood is aware that he has them. I can’t remember how informed he is on the gold business and consequently if he sketched the tattoos on purpose or completely by accident. Regardless, at least they have the records.

The story here was a very slick move, echoing the beginning of GK with the bear and gold-panning in the river- but with that unexpected twist part way through. The episode gave off a Hounds of the Baskervillesish mood (rather fitting since yesterday was actually Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s birthday) with a dash of Ryosuke Akutagawa (think “Rashomon” or “In a Grove”).

Asirpa serves up some food for thought at the end there “pass on the truth properly”. Heita’s bear obsession started with overhearing partial details of the wenkamuy- perhaps things would have turned out differently or would have at least picked a different obsession if he hadn’t took and run with misinformation. Ultimately, an example of how half truths can sometimes be more harmful than an outright lie.

This has broader connotations for Asirpa and the Ainu- fighting to preserve her culture that is being sunsetted, misinformation is definitely not what she wants to be passed on for perpetuity. And especially not by people who aren’t Ainu or aren’t invested in the Ainu beyond one or two inflated details that capture their imagination- that’s where stereotypes eventually develop, which only disrespect and dehumanize the populations they wrongfully depict. It hits home the importance of her mission to make sure her people are heard the right way and that the truth of her culture is preserved by the people genuinely informed of and invested in the Ainu.

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