Kumiko: the Treasure Hunter– Review by Frank L.
Directed by David Zellner
Writers: David Zellner, Nathan Zellner
Stars: Rinko Kikuchi, Nobuyuki Katsube, Shirley Venard
In 2001, Takiko Konishi, an office worker from Tokyo went to North Dakota and Minnesota. An urban myth grew up that her visit was inspired by an old VHS copy of Fargo (the Coen Brothers 1996). In the film, a briefcase containing hundreds of thousands of dollars is lost in the frozen Minnesota wastes. The myth said she believed it was true and the film indicated the precise location of where the loot was buried. Around this legend, David and Nathan Zellner have created a story which begins in Tokyo.
The dominating persona is Takiko who is played with consummate skill by Rinko Kikuchi. She is in a dead end job, when she discovers the old copy of Fargo. She believes for whatever reason that what Fargo depicts is true, particularly the scene in which the treasure is buried. She makes all sorts of calculations to determine its precise location. Then flies, with single minded determination, to the United States to find it. She has very limited English and almost as little money. She is in the inhospitable world of a North American winter. However the Zellner brothers make it hospitable by a collection of encounters with natives. Each is just a little bit too nice, while charming they are somewhat scary. The first two are born again Christians at the airport who have a little stand for passengers who may be “lost”. There is also a cop, a widow and a motel receptionist among the ordinary and not so ordinary folk which she encounters. Each encounter is a vignette of an American stereotype beautifully realised.
Throughout the camera work reveals Tokyo in its bustle and North Dakota/Minnesota in its snow white vastness. At all times Takiko is but a small figure, alone in these two very different environments. She has but one emotional relationship in Tokyo, a rabbit Bunzo, who is her confidante. Otherwise she is a solitary figure.
The film, which premiered at Sundance has a remoteness about it notwithstanding the friendly Americans. It won the US Dramatic Special Jury award for musical score in Sundance. A thoughtful aura appears to be building about this movie, for its cinematography and unusual characters. It is a film that could achieve cult status, like the one that inspired it.
There is a worthwhile interview with the Zellners on Interview magazine which is well worth a read.
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