We’re back with the main gang in the present day, and with time to kill before Tsurumi meets up with them, Sugimoto and Asirpa hang out in the woods while she performs Ainu rituals and hopes a wolverine will come her way so she can taste its brains. They then encounter something completely new: a two-man film crew with a cinematograph.
When a wolverine pounces on the back of one of the men, Sugimoto and Asirpa spring into action with bow and rifle, and the cameraman captures it all. Asirpa gets to taste her wolvy brains (and watch Sugimoto taste them too), but they probably didn’t think much of the little wooden box with the crank until its owner takes it back into town.
There, he explains it’s a relatively new French invention to which he owns the Japanese rights. He then proceeds to play some of the footage of Aniu he’s taken, and everyone is unexpectedly amazed by the dancing pictures. Asirpa, who is of late extremely preoccupied with preserving her culture, decides to don a director’s cap, and Sugimoto reminds the filmmakers that she saved their asses.
Everyone chips in on the ensuing production, which starts with simple folk stories involving dicks and dick copycats (the copycat always dies in the end like the moron he is; Asirpa’s casting of Shiraishi as said moron is an inspired choice).
When she’s not satisfied with how the production is going she shifts from comedy to drama and a story of three brothers, one of whom turns into a bird kamuy. The seriousness is somewhat undone by a nearly-naked Tanigaki bursting out of the bird suit, but Asirpa is happy with the shoot.
Koito arranges for them to screen Asirpa’s masterpiece in a theater, and seeing themselves in the moving pictures is surely an invigorating experience. Then the filmmakers decide to surprise Asirpa with some footage they took ten years ago. In it, she gets to see her father Wilk before his face was lost, and also gets to see her mother for the very first time.
While I laughed during the goofy dick-filled filmmaking scenes earlier, I teared up when I saw Asirpa’s family, and especially her desperately beautiful and powerful mom, from whom she inherited so much without ever knowing her. Kiroranke also makes an appearance in the footage, but it’s her mom who seems to cast a spell on her and everyone in the theater.
But then, as was a not-so-uncommon occurrence in the early days of cinema, the projector light set the film on fire and burned it, not only destroying the all the footage Asirpa & Co. took that day, but also the only images of her mother to ever exist. The first time she saw her was also the last. Utterly dejected, Asirpa walks out into the cold night alone.
Sugimoto follows her to ensure she’s alright, but she’s not. Film, she says, is a wonderful invention, but it’s not nearly enough to keep her people’s culture alive. And she’s right. Literally seeing it through a lens is totally different from learning and living it from other Ainu. The footage was enlightening, but also cold, especially relative to her warm memories of her father telling her stories.
Asirpa is definitely putting far too much of a burden on her slender shoulders to save the Ainu from certain cultural oblivion, and yet she can’t stop. Sugimoto calls it a “curse”, for while much of it is her own will, she can’t deny that will was shaped in her formative years by the likes of Wilk and Kiroranke, who all but forced her to carry on their legacies.
Whatever she has to do to achieve her goals, Asirpa knows it will require gold, and lots of it. But Sugimoto knows that with gold comes blood. He admits to her that part of him wants to preserve the innocence he lost by protecting her, but he also knows that he already inhabits a kind of hell of his own making; a hell he assures Asirpa she won’t like. Nothing will change her more from what she should be than killing.
Leave it to Golden Kamuy to gradually build up our Sugisirpa withdrawl for three straight weeks and then pounce on our back like a wolverine with a gem of an episode that’s both bawdy and fun, and part heartbreaking and redemptive.