TAD 2014: Kumiko The Treasure Hunter
Kumiko is drifting through life. She has a boring office job, a nagging mother, and a complete lack of attachment to others. She is the picture of a hikikomori with only her rabbit Bunzo as a companion. When she finds an old VHS copy of the the Coen Brothers’ Fargo she experiences a revelation – untold wealth is hiding under the Minnesota snow, right where Steve Buscemi left it. Abandoning her unsatisfying life she embarks on her treasure hunt. What follows is a dreamlike tale of determination, centred around a stellar performance by Pacific Rim‘s Rinko Kikuchi.
A lonely young woman discovers treasure in the wilds of America and embarks on a quest to claim it. Unfortunately for her the treasure exists only in the film Fargo… This film is almost a nesting doll of story. Fargo was based loosely on the details of a number of old murder cases. Kumiko is based on the Minnesota urban legend of a Japanese woman thinking that the movie is real and hunting for the money. There is something about a purported true story that easily draws audiences in. It’s usually done for suspense and drama – most famously of course by The Blair Witch Project. As the Coens said, “If an audience believes that something’s based on a real event, it gives you permission to do things they might otherwise not accept”. Kumiko of course takes this incredibly literally, allowing the plot to unfold.
It raises some interesting questions about delusion and mental illness vs fighting against the naysaying of others. The filmmakers made the choice to remain somewhat objective on the subject, leaving it up to the viewer to judge Kumiko’s actions. Fortunately the character is so well-built that you can simultaneously cheer her on to success while desperately hoping that she’ll snap out of it.
Kumiko The Treasure Hunter is absolutely fantastic, I loved it unreservedly. Rinko Kikuchi’s portrayal of Kumiko is a pitch-perfect balance between disaffected loner and passionate dreamer. And I am astonished by the directing skill of the Zellner Brothers. The film is divided into halves by Kumiko’s departure for America, and the tone of each half is palpably unique to its home culture. It starts out as a somewhat melancholy J-comedy, and once she disembarks it feels like we’ve stepped into a new Coen story. In fact I would go so far as to say that Kumiko has the strength to stand as a companion piece to Fargo itself. Kudos to everyone involved.