Review: Kumiko The Treasure Hunter
Review by Karri Yano
Filmmaker-brothers David and Nathan Zellner present Kumiko the Treasure Hunter, a whimsical story about a woman bent on following her beliefs despite all odds. Kumiko (Academy Award nominee Rinko Kikuchi, Babel, Pacific Rim) discovers an old VHS tape of the Coen brothers’ film Fargo which she believes is a real life “treasure map” showing the way to untold wealth and a way out of her mundane existence.
Kumiko’s determination to find a suitcase full of cash (that Steven Buschemi buries in the snow in a desolate part of North Dakota in Fargo) turns to obsession as her life becomes increasingly miserable: as an Office Lady, her boss demeans her (she gets back at him by spitting in his tea), her co-workers ostracize her (although the distain seems pretty mutual), and her mother (who we only hear as a nagging voice over the phone) harangues her for not having a boyfriend or any prospects for marriage.
When her boss sends her out to do yet another menial task, she uses the company credit card to jump on a plane and heads to America, leaving Japan and her beloved pet bunny Bunzo behind. Once there, in true quest fashion, she meets a host of kooky characters: two proselytizing “tourist consultants” (one of them played by brilliantly by Nathan Zellner); the woman who tries to talk her out of her journey because it’s too cold; the sympathetic, but helpless-to-help cop (also played brilliantly by David Zellner) who tries to convince her that Fargo is “just a normal movie”; and the deaf cab driver who eventually leads her to the snowy conclusion.
Kikuchi portrays the socially withdrawn Kumiko with an earnest desperation reflecting Kumiko’s building resentment and frustration, but she is also able to demonstrate a growing rebelliousness, instilling a streak of humour that pervades the film. Kikuchi’s facial expression and body language, along with the amazing sound track set the tone of the scenes. The music is a multi-timbred sound scape (The Octopus Project), ranging from the harsh gut-tightening motif whenever Kumiko seems like she running out of options—almost an audio panic attack—to the clashing dissonances in her final attempt to make it to her destination.
When her magic talisman fails (the company credit card gets rejected when she tries to pay for the motel room), she rips a hole in the motel’s cheap bed quilt—the film drifts into a kind magic realism here—donning it as suit of armour. The red kimono-like patterned quilt makes for a dramatic contrast against the grey winter daylight and almost blinding white fields of snow. The images of Kumiko trudging through the endless fields and forests, over frozen-over ponds and rivers, and in the black night storm are reminiscence of the yuki-onna (snow woman) in Japanese folklore (in some versions, she is the spirit of a woman who perished in the snow).
It is a visually-evocative film, both stark in its contrasts and rich in its emotional detail from the claustrophobic conformist offices of Japan to the almost paralyzing vastness of the American hinterland. The symmetrical composition shots, dead-pan humour, and quirky characters give the film a Wes Anderson feel, but with a deep personal investment that forces us to wonder how far would any of us go to follow our dreams, hopes, and beliefs.
Is it a happy ending? It depends on your perspective: we want to believe Kumiko finds her treasure if only to escape her miserable life and finally find some fulfilment. The ending may not be what we expect or want, but the film is a multi-layered journey filled with quirky sense of humour and optimism that resolves in a way that we hope Kumiko would be satisfied with.
Running time: 105 minutes
English and Japanese (with English Subtitles)
Vancity Theatre (Vancouver, BC)
Apr 3 – 10, 2015
1181 Seymour St, Vancouver, BC V6B 2E8
TIFF Bell Lightbox (Toronto)
Apr 3 – 10, 2015
350 King Street West, Toronto, ON M5V 3X5
Regina Public Film Library
Apr 2 – 5, 2015
2311 12th Ave, Regina, SK
Karri Yano is a Toronto-based editor and writer.