Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter
Starring Rinko Kikuchi, Shirley Venard, David Zellner, Nathan Zellner
I am typically not a fan of abstract or overly qwerky films that seem only to exist to be unusual and different. However, Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter by the Zellner Brothers is something I couldn’t get out of my head after seeing it. It’s based on the craziest true story I have heard in a long time. Academy Award nominee Rinko Kikuchi (Babel, Pacific Rim) is absolutely fantastic as the disturbed and delusional Kumiko. The script the Zellner brothers have created is based on factual accounts and urban legend, which all come together in one of the most unusual and unforgettable pieces of work I have seen in a long time. It’s also fascinating to learn how this woman could get caught up in something the Coen Brothers made, showing further their unlimited reach and influence as filmmakers.
Twenty-nine year-old Kumiko has a pet bunny named Bonzo, lives alone in a messy apartment in Tokyo, and has become an outcast in the ambitious Tokyo society. She isn’t interested in advancing herself or finding a husband, which is all her mother ever asks about. One day Kumiko finds a battered VHS copy of the American film Fargo on the beach shore and fast-forwards to the part where Steve Buscemi’s character buries a briefcase filled with money near a snow-covered fence. “I am like a Spanish Conquistador”, she tells a librarian after she is apprehended for stealing a book of American maps. She makes her way to Minnesota in the dead of winter trying any way she can to get up to Fargo and find this imaginary fence where she believes she will find “treasure.”
A sad story, yes, but it becomes more of an odyssey here, thanks to the imagination of the filmmakers and the brilliant performance from Kikuchi.
The film doesn’t really get interesting until Kumiko reaches America, and it could certainly have made more haste in getting there. The cinematography is marvelous, the original score conceptually brilliant, and I enjoyed the fragmented character development as we slowly understand her frame of mind. The characters Kumiko encounters in Minnesota are as well written as they are entertaining, because they are reflections of the people we know from the Coens’ Fargo. The highlight for me was Kumiko’s encounter with an older woman who tries to dissuade her from going to Fargo: “Too cold, no fun. You should have gone to Florida”, she says. “I’ll take you to Mall of America; it’s a lot more fun!”
The Zellner script is clearly a satire on both Japanese and American culture. In one scene a local police officer, trying to help the distraught Kumiko, takes her to a Chinese restaurant, and asks the owner to translate. “I speak Mandarin, not Japanese!” the lady scolds him. I am a big fan of screenwriters taking something factual, typically where there are few facts, and creating an entire fictional adaptation around it; in other words, artistically filling in the blanks. Never has that been more successful than with Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter, which is a sad story, yes, but it becomes more of an odyssey here, thanks to the imagination of the filmmakers and the brilliant performance from Kikuchi.
Unlike anything else, endlessly fascinating.