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KUMIKO: THE TREASURE HUNTER
February 19, 2015
Based on the urban myth of a Japanese woman travelling to Minnesota in search of the money hidden in the film Fargo (1996), Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter explores what its protagonist, Kumiko, is running from. Director David Zellner uses lots of scenic and symmetrical shots to emphasise Kumiko’s slide into depression.
The effect is a quiet, slow descent into hopelessness that makes the experience feel like being lowered into an icy cold bath. Starring Rinko Kikuchi, best known to western audiences as Mako in Pacific Rim (2013), I was happy to see her dig her teeth into a meatier role. Even if her dialogue is minimal, she’s able to use body language and facial expressions effectively.
Starting in Tokyo, Japan we’re introduced to Kumiko’s monotonous life, her only excitement comes from the film Fargo. Her dedication to the film includes creating a notebook of every scene and the location of a large sum of money hidden in Minnesota. She believes this is real and plans to go.
The film focuses on why she believes the treasure is real: pressure from colleagues, friends and family to become financially and romantically secure eat away at her. Her mother (Yumiko Hioki) constantly calls her asking when she’s going to get a boyfriend or move back in.
Kumiko’s only fulfilling relationship comes in the form of her pet rabbit ‘Bunzo’, probably because he can’t speak. Eventually Kumiko realises that the only way to escape her mother and her job is to find the treasure. She initially goes to a library to steal a book of maps when she’s quickly caught by a security guard who allows her to take a page of the map of Minnesota in exchange for a bribe, exclaiming “I have to stop making a habit of this” which only brought up more questions! There’s a lot of this dry humour that lightens the mood every so often, juxtaposed against the isolation of Tokyo and the tumultuous weather in Minnesota and it’s definitely nice to have those lighter moments.
When Kumiko makes it to Minnesota she quickly finds herself a fish out of water, unable to rationalise the perky Minnesotan hospitality, given the isolated lifestyle she’s led so far. Her dogged approach to finding the treasure is hopeless and tragic, there’s very little to be uplifted by. At one point she cuts a hole into a blanket and wears it as a cape, as if to signify her acknowledgment that the world around her is warped.
Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter is a delicate and beautiful film, portraying the depressive state of its protagonist, so much so that you’re going to need a hug when it’s over. Peppered with comedy and harsh realism, there’s so many great performances – David Zellner even makes an appearance as a police man desperately trying to get Kumiko to realise Fargo is just a film. Tragic and beautiful, there’s a lot to appreciate and move you, whether that’ll be good or bad will depend on your mood before you see it.
Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter is released in UK cinemas on February 20th