Unhappiness with one’s station in life leads to a lot of big life changes, whether a logical jump or one out of pure emotion. Where those changes take us can lead us to happiness or an even more insurmountable issue. Inspired by the Coen Brothers, the Zellner Brothers play with this spark in the story of KUMIKO, THE TREASURE HUNTER.
In Tokyo, Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi, PACIFIC RIM) is an Office Lady for her work. With a job geared towards girls starting out, and without a significant other, at the age of 29, she’s starting to be looked at with pity, as she’s not moving forward with a traditional life. Instead of focusing on finding a life partner, or getting a promotion at work, Kumiko enjoys spending time with Bunzo, her pet rabbit, and exploring, looking for treasures. Her most recent find: a battered VHS tape telling a supposed true story involving a hidden cache of money hidden in Minnesota near the North Dakota border. That tape? A badly bootlegged copy of the Coens’ FARGO.
Believing the disclaimer at the beginning of the film, Kumiko studies the damaged VHS, specifically the scene where Steve Buscemi buries the attache case full of cash near a fence. Making a treasure map to the location, Kumiko grows more and more unhappy with her day to day life. After being chastised by her boss for her erratic behavior, he gives her his company credit card so that she can buy his wife a present. She uses this as a way to get to Minneapolis, as a first step towards her treasure hunt.
Minnesota and North Dakota in the middle of the winter aren’t exactly the best places to be, let alone for a young woman that barely speaks the language, and is stuck halfway in a fantasy world of her own creation. Similar to how Joshua Caldwell’s LAYOVER exhibits a stranger in a not-so-strange land, KUMIKO does the same, showing us familiar surroundings from the viewpoint of a foreign mind. Upon first glance, to an American, statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox may not be entirely odd, but seeing them through the eyes of Kumiko, they appear as if they were built by an alien culture, not unlike the Easter Island statues.
“Solitude is just fancy loneliness.”
I find it interesting that I keep stumbling across films involving a sense of frustration with one’s lot in life. Even though things in my life are going pretty well, there is always the feeling that they could be better. I think that this is a fairly universal feeling, but love how recent films like KUMIKO, SPRING, and THE COBBLER have embraced this and were able to use it as a catalyst to tell three very different stories.
The Zellners do a wonderful job telling a story with relatable characters in a story that just veers off of reality, similar to how the Coen brothers create their films. And with the work of cinematographer Sean Porter, the beauty of every scene is on display, even when displaying the mundane or ugly sides of places. While not only paying tribute to FARGO, it feels like a sister film to it.
Kikuchi, who had a really strong performance in PACIFIC RIM, played the frazzled office assistant to the T, and yet allowed herself to be one with the fantasy loving, Spanish conquistador side of Kumiko. You want to believe in her, even though knowing that her chase is as fruitless as catching a rainbow. And the scene where she leaves Bunzo behind, before she leaves Tokyo, is heart rending. She does a great job of carrying the film throughout, making me all the more excited to see her in more starring roles.
KUMIKO, THE TREASURE HUNTER is now in select theaters in NY and LA, and will be expanding to further cities in the next few weeks.