Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter
Directed by David Zellner
Starring Rinko Kikuchi, Nobuyuki Katsube, David Zellner, Shirley Venard
I felt an overwhelming amount of empathy while watching Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter — both for Kumiko and the characters who interact with her. Kumiko is more than a little crazy, but she is brave enough to depart on a journey that most of us would only dream of. She is extremely depressed in Japan, so she leaves her job and her family behind in search of a hidden treasure she believes she will find in Fargo, Minnesota.
Her boss likes to pry into her personal life, and her mother calls daily to demand that she marry soon or at the very least, she find a boyfriend. She doesn’t like to go out with friends when the workday is over; instead she obsesses over her copy of Fargo (a movie made by the Coen Brothers in 1996), making notes and sketches that she hopes will help her find the suitcase of money that Steve Buscemi’s character buries in the snow. Kumiko tries to steal a map of Minnesota from a library in Japan but is apprehended by a police officer. She claims that she needs the map to fulfill her destiny and likens herself to a “Spanish Conquistador.” Her conviction that this treasure exists confounds police across the globe; her beliefs don’t waiver in the slightest as a Minnesotan sheriff delicately tries to explain that the movie is fiction. Kumiko insists that Fargo is “a true story” (as stated at the beginning of Fargo).
Rinko Kikuchi does a great job of performing the confused and confusing Kumiko. The title of the film suggests adventure, which it does portray but not in the way you’d expect. Kumiko’s journey is not so much exciting as it is embarrassing to watch. If you experience second-hand embarrassment when watching movies, you might want to sit this one out. Every character we meet makes a fool of themselves in one way or another — the kindly Minnesotans have the best intentions but are undoubtedly culturally unaware, and Kumiko doesn’t seem to understand the difference between fiction and reality. She spends much of the film running away from things. At first, it’s work, her mother, and social expectations and later, it’s bills, cab fares, and every single person who seeks to help her.
The film moves quickly and doesn’t waste any time. The cinematography was impressive, especially with capturing the sense of being lost and overwhelmed in the frozen midwestern wilderness. The ending speaks for itself, and the viewer is force-fed nothing throughout the film, which was refreshing. It is hinted that Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter, like Fargo, is “based on a true story,” whatever that might mean.