Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter– **** out of *****
Blu-ray | Digital
Directed by David Zellner
Starring: Rinko Kikuchi, David Zellner, Shirley Venard
Theatrical Release Date: March 18, 2015
Blu-ray Release Date: June 30, 2015
The abilities that film, as an art form, harbors are staggering. Few other art forms have the tendencies to evoke such various forms of emotion with the use of imagery and sound. We know it can inspire and influence an entire generation, spreading across the globe rampantly to speak to each person on an intimate level. It is a fascinating pleasure, though, when one perceives that film’s abilities can be remarkably negative – awakening within a person a mindset that once has been unaccounted for.
Devoid of any sentimentalism that may plague other films that attempt to pay homage to a particular movie, Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter, directed by David Zellner, who also wrote the screenplay with his brother Nathan Zellner, references Joel and Ethan Coen’s 1996 film Fargo in a peculiar way that both thwarts and extols that film’s ginormous influence. With Kumiko the Zellner brothers achieve artistic relevance as they ultimately reveal, in a jokingly yet deadly serious way, the limitless plethora of wealth that cinema can afford to us, especially to an individual beaten-up by life who is looking for some meaning to her bland existence.
Marred by the graininess and fuzziness expected from antiquated VCR cassettes, “THIS IS A TRUE STORY” appears as the initial image we encounter in Kumiko. A befitting image because it somewhat captures the distorted perspective plaguing the film’s eponymous heroine Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi), one that is impaired due to her unswerving reliance on Fargo and how there may be a briefcase full of money buried in the exact spot Steve Buscemi’s character buried it in the film. Her journey will be one that absolutely forgoes the ordinary treks that countless troubled cinematic souls made before her who desperately sought comfort, closure, or self-discovery in anything faintly religious, familial, or personal.
Her journey grows odder by the minute. Our first meeting with Kumiko is on what seems to be a desolate, uninhabited island, one that vaguely resembles the seaside in Under the Skin. It is on this island, in a dimly lit cave buried underground, relying on her homespun map, where she discovers a VCR cassette tape. Rushing home to her cramped, poorly lit and untidy apartment, she thrusts the tape in her VCR and is forever consumed by the hidden money in Fargo.
Soon her bland life as her boss’s secretary girl takes a dramatic turn, leaving her job (with the company’s credit card) and her mother, who constantly calls to nag her about getting married anytime soon, and boards a plane to Minnesota with hopes of approaching Fargo, North Dakota. Once in Minnesota Kumiko catches every break possible and happens to run into the right person at the right time. A Minnesota cop (David Zellner) has the pleasure of sorting out Kumiko’s crazed mindset for a little while, as well as an old lady (Shirley Venard) who insists that Kumiko settles in, stays the night and reads James Clavell’s novel Shogun. Despite their assistance and continual reassurance that Fargo is a “fake” movie, Kumiko insists on finding a briefcase full of money.
Seldom do other films navigate this topic of intense obsession. It eludes most films that attempt it because the majority is timid to take themselves seriously while doing so. Zellner admirably imbues so much importance in Kumiko’s journey that he somewhat makes his audience disregard the oddness of such a narrative. But that only goes so far as the film begins to unravel towards the end, descending into absurdity rather than creating a sense of madness and maintaining a dreamlike atmosphere. It may be difficult to perceive, but the most exquisite aspect that Zellner’s film offers, though, is its contemplation that film may very well be, after all these years, really telling the truth.