The Movie Waffler New Release Review - <i>Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter</i> | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter

Believing the movie Fargo to be factual, a lonely Japanese woman sets off to Fargo, North Dakota in search of the movie's briefcase full of cash.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: David Zellner

Starring: Rinko Kikuchi, Nobuyuki Katsube, Shirley Venard, David Zellner, Nathan Zellner

The latest and most high profile to date feature from the writing-directing team of the Zellner brothers features another work from a more famous pair of filmmaking siblings - the Coen brother's 1996 Fargo. Tonally, though, it couldn't be further from the exaggerated style of the Coens; this is a movie, that like its melancholy protagonist, is deeply subdued. It's not quite slow cinema, more like somnambulist cinema.
Rinko Kikuchi is the title heroine, a depressed Tokyo office worker who despises her job, her boss, her coworkers, and seemingly everyone she encounters. Even a five-year-old child sends Kumiko fleeing in panic. When you feel like hell is other people, the world's most crowded city probably isn't the best place for you.
While exploring a cave, Kumiko stumbles across a VHS tape, which turns out to be a well-worn copy of the aforementioned snowbound comic thriller. Thanks to its 'based on real events' title card, Kumiko believes that she alone has come across the location of a buried briefcase loaded with money, and leaves Tokyo for the snow bleached landscape of Minnesota.
As outlandish as it seems, the film is actually inspired by the real life case of Takako Konishi, a Japanese office worker whose body was found in a Minnesota field in 2001. An urban legend sprang up around the idea that Konishi had been in search of Fargo's fictional buried treasure, and her story was documented in a 2003 British documentary titled This is a True Story, but her death was ruled as suicide.
Mental illness has long been mined as a source of comedy in movies, and the Zellner's film initially seems to be headed down that well worn path. Quickly, however, we stop being amused by Kumiko's antics as it dawns on us that she's a deeply disturbed individual, and something of a sociopath. This makes for uncomfortable viewing, as none of the other characters in the film seem to be as clued in to her condition as we are. One well meaning character dismisses Kumiko's solitude as "fancy loneliness".
Kikuchi is heart-breaking in the lead role, but the film itself is several rungs below her on the ladder of melancholy she ascends throughout, and the film's ending isn't quite as depressing and impactful as it really should be. Ultimately Kumiko is a character in search of both treasure and a movie that will do justice to her plight. I'm not sure she belongs in this one.