Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter

At the very start of the 1996 Cohen brothers film Fargo it reads, “This is a true story”. When I saw the film back in the late 90's and up until I read otherwise on the internet in around 2005, I always just assumed it was- even partially- based on real events. I took the opening text at face value as I had no reason to think otherwise. Why is Fargo important to this review?, I hear you say. Well, back in 2001 a woman from Tokyo, Japan named Takako Konishi was found dead in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota. She committed suicide by taking a lethal mixture of alcohol and sedatives. Through putting together the events leading up to her death, a piece of misheard information led to the urban legend saying that Takako died while trying to find the briefcase of money shown in Fargo, the one which Steve Buscemi's character buries by the side of the road. This urban legend made the news, and while everyone was focusing on this strange tale, everyone overlooked the deceased woman herself, and ultimately what led to her very sad end. Though this film is based upon that urban legend, it changes all the names of those involved. However, it isn't some retelling of Takako's story. It's respectful and moving, and a really great overall watch.

Directed by David Zellner and out now on Blu-Ray and DVD comes Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter, a film that while doesn't reach the heights it should have, is a wonderful little drama about isolation and loneliness. Kumiko works at an office but doesn't like it. In fact, it seems she doesn't like anything that isn't her pet rabbit, Bunzo. While exploring in a cave she comes across a buried copy of Fargo on VHS, the aforementioned Cohen brothers film. She brings it home to her small messy apartment and watches it. Though grainy and fuzzy due to damage, “This is a true story” can still be read at the title sequence. It's from here that she looks through the film and finds the scene in which Steve Buscemi's character is burying the money. She takes it as fact, and after finding a map of the real-life Fargo and making a drawing of the precise location, Kumiko leaves Tokyo behind in order to travel to America to find the treasure in the city of Fargo. Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter is a unique and sad tale of someone feeling utterly alone.

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter's gem is Rinko Kikuchi, who plays the character of Kumiko herself. She's wonderful in this film, and she plays Kumiko as such a troubled, lonely, sad and hurt person who won't look anyone in the eye, turns away from help and is ultimately a very sympathetic character. There are many scenes in Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter in which Rinko's performance just tugs at the heartstrings. None of these moments come across as hokey or forced, as instead they're open, honest and moving. The other people Kumiko interacts with in the film are all pretty good, especially the character David Zellner himself plays. Just like the film Fargo, the people of Minnesota here are varied, charming and interesting, which each one clearly having their very own unique story. There's light humour peppered into the film too, but not too much that Kumiko's personal story becomes a comedy. In fact, much like Kumiko herself, the blend of comedy and drama here is lifelike, and the writing and characters come together to make a very bitter-sweet film.

The visuals and music are fantastic too. From the opening 30 minutes that take place in Tokyo with its narrow streets, lively scenery and massive cityscape, to the latter part of the film in Minnesota that's drenched in white snow and sparse in terms of people and buildings, cinematographer Sean Porter does a excellent job here. Throughout the film there's just such a lovely sense of atmosphere, and this is helped along by the breathtaking score by The Octopus Project. Their score is simple but impressive, and really is one of those parts of the film that stand out the most. Through the films visuals, music and leading performance by Rinko, Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter finds a strong and unique voice.

However, as the credits rolled a part of me was disappointed. Though the film does noticeably lose a bit of direction after Kumiko leaves Japan, the film ends on a very surprisingly dark note. I can enjoy dark stories, I really can, but after interacting with so many happy and charming people throughout her adventure, I was surprised by Kumiko's lack of character development. It didn't ruin the film for me, but I guess I saw it all ending differently for her. Then again, much like the real life story of  Takako Konishi, Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter forgoes a classic Hollywood ending in place for something a little bleaker, perhaps to strongly highlight the damage loneliness can do to a person. Loneliness is a powerful thing, especially to a fragile person in a strange land,  hell bent on a quest that was doomed even before it began.

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter is smart, moving and impressive, 4/5.


Denis Murphy

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter at CeX

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