Cast: Rinko Kikuchi, Nobuyuki Katsube, Shirley Venard, David Zellner, Nathan Zellner.
Running Time: 105 minutes
Synopsis: A lonely Japanese woman named Kumiko (Kikuchi), decides to venture to Fargo after having watched the popular Coen Brothers film and, believing the events to be true, she goes looking for the treasure buried by Steve Buscemi’s character.
The urban legend of a confused Japanese woman journeying to Fargo after watching the seminal Coen Brother’s classic has been doing the rounds for many years. The actual truth is that the woman was very depressed and was searching for an ex-lover. Her death, rather than freezing in the snow looking for non-existent treasure, was actually a suicide. That’s not the point of David Zellner’s film though. Like FARGO itself, the film is blurring the lines between truth and storytelling, and rather than being a depressing tale of sadness and loneliness, we get a bittersweet view of exploration.
Starting in Japan, we get to know Kumiko, a young woman who finds no joy in the regular pursuits of traditional life. Her mother constantly hounds her about promotion and getting hitched, but Kumiko would rather explore the world around her and live her life as a conquistador. It’s no easy thing watching a character whose dreams and pursuits are futile, and the tragedy which constantly brews beneath the surface creates a melancholic charm. Although we’d usually want to encourage such a likable protagonist in following their ambitions, we know exactly how it’s all going to end.
Upon her journey, Kumiko takes to the road and meets a great range of characters. Whether it be a friendly old woman (Venard), or the director himself as a kind but clueless cop, they are all presented as rare exaggerations, but with a realistic soul. Zellner and his team have done incredibly well to pay homage to FARGO without ever copying it. The music especially is able to conjure the unique feel of KUMIKO THE TREASURE HUNTER through its use of homage with a Japanese twist.
The majority of the credit has to go to Kikuchi for her central performance. She does so little but conveys so much. Once arriving in America, she is pretty much reduced to the line ‘I go Fargo,’ and yet her eyes and face scream so much more. It’s bound to be a performance that is looked back upon as one of the huge Oscar oversights.Almost every scene represents both weakness and strength while also evoking sadness and happiness, sometimes at the exact same time.
KUMIKO THE TREASURE HUNTER is a little miracle of a movie. Perfectly capturing the joy of adventure and the heartbreaking pains of loneliness, it offers a subtle yet powerful tome which is one of the most striking tragedies in recent years. Often feeling similar to a lethargic dream of memorable power, you don’t so much watch KUMIKO THE TREASURE HUNTER, as you are guided through it. Kikuchi gives a wonderfully nuanced performance, while the exploration of fiction and reality engages as much as FARGO before it. A great film that needs to be seen.
[usr=5]KUMIKO THE TREASURE HUNTER is out now.