Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter is about Kumiko, a girl in Japan who discovers a VHS of Fargo buried under a rock in a cave. She is convinced that a scene of Steve Buschemi burying a suitcase full of money is real, so she sets out to recover the buried treasure. Kumiko constructs a treasure map by measuring the dimensions of her television screen, and then she flies to Minnesota in the middle of winter and tries to find her way to Fargo with nothing but her red jacket.
Rinko Kikuchi is absolutely flawless to me. She plays Kumiko with the perfect combination of stubbornness, aloofness, and empathy that is required to convey the kind of person who would leave everything behind and set out on an impossible journey halfway across the world. One of my favorite scenes is when Kikuchi yells “Not fake, real!” with a desperate conviction that underlies the entire movie. The soundtrack, by The Octopus Project, is also beautiful and perfect for the endless snowscapes of Minnesota. (Is snowscape a word? I might have just made that up.)
The script was written by two brothers, David and Nathan Zellner, and directed by David. The script was inspired by a bizarre set of real events, which I wouldn’t read about before watching the movie! The dialogue in the movie is sparse, and we spend a good chunk of the time watching Kumiko on her own. I am always impressed with movies with little to no dialogue and a limited cast of characters. (Other examples: Locke, All is Lost, Amour) The dialogue that happens alternates between laugh-out-loud funny or relaying a heart-searingly kind of loneliness and disconnect.
As funny and quirky as the premise of the film may be, it’s anything but a comedy. We have more in common with Kumiko than we may realize or want to acknowledge. Kumiko reminded me of Michael Ondaatje’s not-prose-and-not-poem piece, Elimination Dance. An elimination dance is a kind of dance or competition where a speaker will read a set of criteria out loud one at at time, and if you meet the criteria you are out of the running. Ondaatje’s starts off silly enough, those who are allergic to the sea, any person who has lost a urine sample in the mail. You begin to feel comfortable and think, “Oh I’m safe, I’m not like any of these weirdos”, until Ondaatje dives deeper in his last line, “Anyone with pain,” and with that, you’re eliminated as well. That’s exactly how I felt while watching Kumiko.
Recommendation: Definitely Go See