[Film Review] Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter (2014)

Kumiko The Treasure Hunter poster
Title: Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter
Year: 2014
Country: USA
Language: English, Japanese
Genre: Drama
Director: David Zellner
David Zellner
Nathan Zellner
Music: The Octopus Project
Cinematography: Sean Porter
Rinko Kikuchi
David Zellner
Nobuyuki Katsube
Shirley Venard
Kanako Higashi
Nathan Zellner
Phil Hall
Rating: 6.8/10

Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter poster 2014

This indie feature opens with a blurred VHS tape playing Coen brothers’ FARGO (1996), which has its implicit meta-reference, as the film actually is the reinterpretation of a real-life but larger-than-life story about our lonesome heroine Kumiko (Kikuchi), a 29-year-old office lady in Tokyo, who is hooked by FARGO’s scenes where a briefcase of cash is stashed in the snow land by Steve Buscemi’s character Carl Showalter, and inexplicably but firmly believes it is her destiny to retrieve the money, ergo she embarks on a journey to USA. 

With such a tall tale as the premise, one naturally will take a pinch of salt in viewing Kumiko’s sanity, the first half is about her humdrum presence in Tokyo, stuck in a dead-end job, with her mother keeps nagging on the phone about her unfit situation of being single and urging her to move back living with her, Kumiko is an introvert loner, which even in Japan, she is very jarring with the reality, her only friend is a pet bunny named Bunzo, (the cutest bunny I’ve ever seen and a great animal actor too!). Her life is hopeless apart from her obsession of FARGO’s hidden treasure. As we acquaint with her miserable quandary, her behaviour furthermore nonpluses us, she insists on getting the map of Minnesota on an atlas so as to steals it in the library, as for any sane person, it is quite easy to make a photocopy instead. This interlude offers a clear statement on her saneness, so when she embezzles her company’s credit card and boards the plane for her quest which starts the second half (being a Chinese, I’m super jealous of Japanese can acquire a USA visa so effortlessly), we can sense it will not end well for her, although the parting sequences with Bunzo is so heartbreaking to watch, at one moment, I even thought she would throw it in front of an approaching metro.

Yet, the hospitality of Minnesota citizens (a patent opposite of Tokyo’s frigid person-to-person aura) is overwhelmingly cordial to a foreigner who can only utter simple English and doesn’t even bring enough clothes for the freezing cold weather, she encounters a kind older woman (Venard), a helpful sergeant (director David Zellner himself), a deaf taxi driver (Hall) who doesn’t even chase her when she escapes without paying the fare, through her one-track mind journey, but runs away whenever they deny her pipe dream, but not enough kindness can save her suicidal trek. Wearing a tacky quill walking aimlessly to her doom, Kumiko’s dedication is unerring because the reality is too cruel for her to wake up and face the music, so she must go to Fargo, to collect the money and start anew (only there is no place for her in this vast world), thus, Zellner fabricates a dreamlike finale where Kumiko not only finds what she is looking for and reunites with Bunzo as well. But it is not a gratifying happy ending since it is an impossible mission under that absurd context, on the contrary, through which, the fancy wish-fulfilment exudes much more visceral pathos, as we all can access a bleak mental picture of Kumiko’s fate.

Directed by David Zellner and written with her brother Nathan, this tale of woe has done a commendable job to foreground the cultural disparity within its minimalistic modus operandi apart from establishing itself as a deterrent of how loneliness can eventually erode one’s mentality. Rinko Kikuchi, finally lands another great role stateside that can match her Oscar-nominated performance in BABEL (2006), still not relying on line-delivery, her body language and facial expression is wondrously tapped. Certainly, the film can be panned for its patience-testing spuriousness, and the calculated characterisation which is shopworn in indie shock-drama, but one must give credit for Zellner brothers’ courage and ingenuity to, say the very least, make such a far-fetched fable leave an indelible mark in viewer’s mind.

Oscar 2014 - Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter

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