Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter
Directed by David Zellner
In the massive city of Tokyo, Kumiko, a twenty-nine year old, lives in utter solitude. She works a dreadful, dead-end job under an awful boss, is intimidated by her well-off peers, and nagged incessantly by her overbearing mother who is exasperated by the fact that her daughter is not married or even in a relationship. The only joys in her life come from a grainy VHS tape – an American film in which a man buries a satchel of money in the snowy Midwestern plains - and her beloved pet rabbit, Bunzo. Kumiko is somehow convinced that this treasure is real, and obsesses over its discovery. With a hand-stitched treasure map and a quixotic spirit, Kumiko embarks on an incredible journey over the Pacific and through the frozen Minnesota wilderness to uncover a purported fortune.
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★★★★½ review by davidehrlich on Letterboxd
“I am like a Spanish Conquistador. Recently, I’ve learned of untold riches hidden deep in the Americas.”
So Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi), a peculiar 29-year-old clerk who shares a decomposing Tokyo apartment with her pet rabbit Bunzo, confesses to the nonplussed security guard of her local library after she’s attempted to steal a book of maps. The “untold riches” to which Kumiko refers are the unclaimed bricks of prop cash that – towards the end of the seminal 1996 film “Fargo” – Carl Showalter (Steve Buscemi) buried beside an anonymous stretch of highway somewhere near Brainerd, Minnesota.
Kumiko, who ostensibly seems to understand that Ethan and Joel’s frigid crime saga is a work of fiction, is nevertheless convinced that the money is still there for the taking, waiting beneath the snow for an enterprising treasure hunter to unearth the small fortune and wrest it into reality. It’s an idea that first occurred to Kumiko after she stumbled upon a VCR-shaped slot of rock on the shore of a desolate Japanese beach and found a worn videotape of “Fargo” waiting for her inside the cave’s oblivion.
This is a true story.
…Which is not to say this is a story that actually happened.
Self-reflexivity has always been one of the cinema’s most natural and frequently occurring impulses, and David and Nathan Zellner’s “Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter” continues a tradition forged by examples as disparate as “Sherlock Jr.” and “The Purple Rose of Cairo” in how it explicitly articulates the idea that only the most useless of movies are confined to the screen on which they play. In fact, one of the most compelling undercurrents of the digital revolution and the ubiquitous availability of streaming content is that it’s becoming more difficult for viewers to identify where the cinema ends and life begins. Perhaps the unmoored circumstances through which people increasingly engage with movies will elucidate why trying to separate fact from fiction in a film is ultimately as impossible as trying to separate sugar from eggs in a cake.
The blissful “Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter” opens with a scrawl of warped text claiming that “This is a true story”, but the barely legible title card is borrowed from another film. It’s not enough for Ethan and Joel Coen to make great films, they must also make great films possible. Of course, “Fargo” didn’t exactly stick to the facts, or even really make it clear to what story it was supposedly being true. The brief statement with which the Coen brothers’ crime drama began was something between a stretch and a joke, and the Zellner brothers’ equally brilliant but virtually unclassifiable film shares a similar relationship to the truth. The details as to how the Zellners tweaked this particular tale are as interesting as they are completely irrelevant – “Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter” isn’t about divining the difference between fact and fiction, but rather about how the two are inextricably entwined.
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★★★½ review by Matt Singer on Letterboxd
I was under the impression there would be more Bunzo.
★★★★★ review by Wesley R. Ball on Letterboxd
I go Fargo.
You know, sometimes you just need to be in the right mood to enjoy an absurdist piece of cinema such as this. Clearly, I was in the right mood for it, as I was utterly delighted from beginning to end, no matter how outlandish the story may have gotten. I personally saw it as a love letter to Japanese films, with the weird outlandish story becoming reality. In this case, a film becomes real life for our heroine, Kumiko.
Kumiko is a lonely Japanese woman who enjoys long walks on the beach searching for buried treasure- when she's not at work serving tea and running errands for her somewhat overbearing boss. When Kumiko discovers an old Japanese VHS tape of Joel and Ethan Coen's "Fargo" buried in a cave on the beach, she becomes enthralled with the film, constantly watching it at home, trying to determine where Steve Buscemi's character buried the money in the film. Finally convinced she has the right location, she weaves a copy of the frame in the film where the treasure was buried in a doily, takes a page out of the atlas of her library, and sets off for America with her boss's company credit card.
Naturally, there are several american characters throughout the film who try to help Kumiko along her adventure, not least of which is a kind policeman (played by the director, David Zellner.) People try to dissuade her from visiting Fargo, since from an American standpoint it's basically the Antartica of the USA at the time of year the film takes place. But Kumiko is bound and determined to find the buried money from Fargo, and doesn't let anyone bring her spirits down.
I was surprised how funny the film actually turned out to be, and yet at the same time, heartbreakingly dramatic. Naturally we Americans sometimes find some things Japanese people do to be funny sometimes, and I believe the Zellner bros. attempted to utilize this viewpoint to the best they could in this film, and what we get is an astounding dramedy: just the right amount of comedy mixed with the right amount of drama in the story.
The fantastical portion of the film is probably what really drew me to give it such a high rating. Kumiko the Treasure Hunter draws from the vein of such films as Last Action Hero and The Purple Rose of Cairo, where cinema can be viewed as an in-depth experience both visually and physically. After all, do we not watch movies to escape the stress and depression of everyday life, if only for a few precious hours? I most certainly do. And what a sweet escape it is. There's nothing quite like being enthralled in the world of a film, and Kumiko indulges this fantasy many times over.
I can see why many may find a distaste for this film. In an age where blockbusters severely overshadow better art house films, audiences are drawing away from films with real stories, rather taking explosions and action-packed scenes. It's not necessarily that I don't enjoy a good superhero film once in a while, but I find myself more and more often drawn to the smaller, more art house type films. Kumiko is guaranteed to become a sorely underrated film, possibly a sleeper hit for the future, who really knows at this point?
Kumiko the Treasure Hunter is essentially a fantastically wonderful film that isn't afraid to indulge on it's main characters fantasies. The idea presented in the film that anything is possible in cinema is one that I can certainly appreciate, even relate to at a certain level. It's a perfect little escape from the world for 105 minutes, and one I'm eagerly waiting to view again.
★★★½ review by matt lynch on Letterboxd
a suicidally depressed young woman crafts a fantasy to escape a misogynistic, withholding world in which she seems to disappoint everyone. the quiet bending of truth here, both in terms of incident and its discomfiting humor, serves as a comment both on the unreal fabric of the Coens' "source material" and the way we often unconsciously (or not) form our lives into narratives. this one actually does have its roots in reality, but while it subtly alludes to actual events, the entire point is that this is a better story.
★★★★★ review by Katie on Letterboxd
I LOVE !!!
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