Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter
The loneliness of the superfan is poetically told through the story of Kumiko and her quest for Fargo's buried money.
When it comes to loving a particular film, not all affection is created equal. There's the type of fondness that inspires a fan to tell all their friends about something great that they've seen, and then rewatch it over and over again. Then there's the kind of adoration that becomes a fully fledged obsession.
Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi) fits the latter bill, but even then her fascination is a little more passionate than most. Joel and Ethan Coen's Fargo is the object of her excessive attention, and she doesn't just fixate over it, she believes it. It's not the bickering hitmen, inept car salesman and determined local sheriff — as anyone who has seen the blackly comic crime classic will be familiar with — that strikes a chord. Instead, it's the briefcase filled with money buried in the Minnesota snow.
To understand why she's so intent on thinking the movie is more than fiction is to understand her largely solitary existence in Tokyo. Kumiko is 29 years old and still working as an office lady, a position her boss thinks she should've well and truly outgrown. Her mother only calls to scold her about her dismal personal life, and her only friend is her pet rabbit, Bunzo. So when she happens across a VHS copy of Fargo, embracing its tall tale as truth adds purpose to her days, and trekking across America to find the stack of cash it tells of becomes her destiny.
Reality is actually at the heart of Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter, though the filmmaking Zellner brothers — writer, director and actor David and co-writer and producer Nathan — aren't just living this fantasy themselves. They're delving into an urban legend that sprang up around the death of a Japanese woman in the US, which was first chronicled in 2003 documentary This Is a True Story. Indeed, those exact words are the first seen in Fargo itself, sparking reports at the time that it was based on real-life circumstances. Keeping that in mind, Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter makes its own fable out of diving into the strangeness that can stem from both truth and fiction, as well as the tenuous relationship between the two.
The basis for its premise aside, the film also offers an offbeat look at isolation, and the lengths someone will go to in order to escape into a dream rather than face their reality. There's no mistaking the magical realism at work in the Zellners' approach, as their gorgeous icy frames make Kumiko's quest seem larger than life, and the atmospheric score by The Octopus Project proves both haunting and hopeful. There's no avoiding the questions it raises about the protagonist's fragile, lonely state, either.
Kikuchi plays the titular character with perfection, her performance as slow in building as the movie itself, but also as beguiling the longer she's on screen. It's one of quirks and details adding up to something you can't look away from, even if you're simultaneously enthralled and frustrated. That's the reaction Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter elicits: whole-hearted intrigue in its ideas, and traces of exasperation in its meandering. Well, that, and making you want to rewatch Fargo as soon as possible — and as long as you don't book a plane ticket to America to search for the briefcase yourself, that's not a bad thing.
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