Inspired by true events, this fantasy adventure tells the story of a young woman’s extraordinary journey from Japan to Minnesota, in search of a mythical fortune.
The titular Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi from Babel) lives a shy and solitary life in a cramped Tokyo apartment shared only by her beloved pet rabbit Bunzo. She is 29 years of age and increasingly isolated. Humourless, Kumiko is constantly browbeaten by her mother, who complains that she isn’t yet married. She is stuck in a dead-end job with a demeaning boss. Kumiko devotes all her spare time to compulsive viewings of Joel and Ethan Coen’s classic movie Fargo. It’s not so much the film that fascinates her, more the suitcase of cash Steve Buscemi’s hapless kidnapper buries beneath the snow in the city’s outskirts.
Rewinding and fast-forwarding her weathered VHS tape to the point of its destruction, Kumiko meticulously hand-sews a map that pinpoints where she believes the money remains buried. Thus begins a life-changing odyssey towards the wintry American Midwest to claim it.
Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter is an eclectic tale of obsession and delusion. Co-writer and director David Zellner says the idea of a treasure hunt is so antiquated. He and his brother Nathan, the film’s co-writer and co-producer, grew up fans of conquistador movies and stories, with explorers travelling to remote areas of the world in search of a fictitious fortune. So, they updated the concept into a contemporary setting.
The story has a fable-like quality to it. Slow-moving, the drama is balanced out by the inherent humour of the situation in which Kumiko finds herself. Kumiko is alone in her universe. In the world of rigid Japanese culture, she is a proverbial square peg, making only the slightest attempt at fitting into a round hole. At her office job, she regularly shows up late, in the darkest of moods, unlike her cheerful co-workers. Her boss is unable to understand how to motivate her. She just wants to be left alone and he is constantly pushing his own overbearing conservative values upon her.
For Kumiko, it is more important to be herself rather than assimilate into the society in which she lives.
Art-house and quirky, many will find Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter not to their liking or taste. Some will find it utterly perplexing and without merit and the central character difficult, if not impossible, to warm to. Then there will be those who will appreciate the unusual interactions Kumiko has with those she meets along the way. They will admire her single mindedness, her never say die attitude.
Winner of the special jury prize at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, that is probably where this film deserves to be seen … at festivals.
If unconventional fare is your bent, Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter may be for you. Otherwise, probably best to give it a miss.
Rated PG, Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter scores a 6 out of 10.
Director: David & Nathan Zellner
Cast: Rinko Kikuchi, David Zellner, Nathan Zellner, Shirley Venard
Releasing in cinemas: 30 April 2015
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television