One of the most unexpected elements from Golden Kamuy is probably its dedication to cooking, at first glance…
Food means a lot in Golden Kamuy. It’s used as gags, it’s got cultural significance, meat can be used as a metaphor for other themes, such as death and masculinity, while taste is just one of those things that can overcome boundaries.
So let’s elaborate on each of these points and see what else we can get from the significance of food in this show…
Golden Kamuy’s fond of making crass jokes and then justifying them, like calling a kid “Boner” (because that was a thing the Ainu did). This is personally why I find these crass jokes to be a lot more tolerable than, say, Mahou Shoujo Ore’s – they fit into the overall story without looking like they were shoehorned in for a cheap laugh. The fact there are so many crass jokes integrated seamlessly into the storyline is either a string of coincidences or a lot of research (or maybe a bit of both).
That said, a lot of the jokes which pertain to food highlight potential schisms between our groups of heroes/villains in a light-hearted way, such as discrepancies between what is considered a “delicacy” between different Japanese cultures. (That particular example is mostly invoked via Asirpa’s offerings of animal organs to Sugimoto.) Even the “miso looks like poop” joke, a running joke within the series, creates a dissonance between stuff that definitely shouldn’t be eaten and stuff that’s considered “tasty” to an ordinary Japanese person.
By showcasing the different variants of food and how people’s opinions differ on said food, you can explore not only character motivations through associated memories or events, but also local hunting methods (should they apply) and people’s general taste in food,which is undoubtedly built from the experiences they’ve had and the things they’ve tasted in the past. For instance, the dried persimmons Sugimoto mentions inseason 2 are a reminder of how he is different to Asirpa in regards to his upbringing, while the promise to get Asirpa some persimmons to taste strengthens his bond with the girl as part of a goal to fulfil alongside the hunt for gold, or before the hunt is over.
Preparing meat is also a way of incorporating other themes
There don’t seem to be any vegetarians or vegans in Golden Kamuy, which makes it easier to show how meat is prepared as both a survival tactic and cultural norm. Then again, one of the other disparate parts of Golden Kamuy is the use of serial killers as a reminder that everyone is equal in death, regardless of what they did when they were alive. In a sense, the fact the cast of Golden Kamuy are shown preparing meat often is an extension of this idea – because in the end, if animals are going to become nutrition for humans and humans all die, then it’s just part of the circle of life.
Alternatively, by having the men of the various factions – themselves often hunters or trained in ways of killing – obtain the animals they want to eat and then having them also partake in preparing the food, it’s both a show of traditional masculinity (catching viable food sources is a power move in and of itself) and also a breakdown of gender norms. The latter is due to the fact in most scenes of Golden Kamuy, Sugimoto and co. are just trying to survive in the wilderness or against odds the 7th Division/Hijikata’s faction/some other group gives them, and so they need to be able to do everything including making their own food, rather than delegate Asirpa all the food preparation duties and leave the hunting to themselves.
Sidebar: The scene where Sugimoto and Shiraishi admire a flower also springs to mind as I type this post, because not only is it a spot of humour which contrasts sharply with the reality in Golden Kamuy, that particular moment could almost be seen to be compensating for the fact not many women appear in the series. Therefore, the men also have to take on some feminine roles.
Taste overcomes boundaries
As the Ryunosuke Akutagawa story Rashomon can attest, even if people were all at the same event at the same time, their perceptions and memories of the event can be different. However, aside from slight discrepancies, such as inconsistencies in food preparation, taste does not discriminate, regardless of where you come from in the world. This, I think, is the real reason how serial killers, freedom fighters and more are able to be brought together under one roof to share a meal in Golden Kamuy, as epitomised in the shot parodying The Last Supper in the second season.
It’s not just geographic boundaries of origin either – episode 18, which elaborates on Tanigaki’s backstory, proves specific recipes can be used to identify people and thus bypass other senses like touch or hearing. In this way, taste does not discriminate because if the recipe was followed perfectly, it should taste the same to all people (provided they don’t have a cold or a nose problem to warp the action of tasting).
During the aforementioned episode involving dried persimmons, I was wondering exactly what Golden Kamuy’s themes were, despite the fact I’ve written a few posts on it already and found themes that way. In that sense, I think this post does a particularly good job of proving how varied some of Golden Kamuy’s themes really are, which makes it a perfect way to kick-start the 12 Days of Anime. (By the way, if you didn’t notice it, I used this post to try out the new editor, so tell me if there are any particularly odd formatting errors.)
So, fans of Golden Kamuy, what’s your favourite food moment from the series? For people who aren’t familiar with it, do you have a favourite moment from an anime or manga involving food?