Tuesday, 28 October 2014

KUMIKO, THE TREASURE HUNTER - Review By Greg Klymkiw - 2014 Toronto After Dark

Kumiko travels from Tokyo to Fargo in search of treasure.
Kumiko studies FARGO
Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter (2014)
Dir. David Zellner
Scr. David & Nathan Zellner
Starring: Rinko Kikuchi

Review By Greg Klymkiw

American cinema, more than anything, has always exemplified the American Dream.

Brilliantly responding to this notion, director David Zellner and his co-writer brother Nathan, have created Kumiko The Treasure Hunter, one of the most haunting, tragic and profoundly moving explorations of mental illness within the context of those dashed hopes and dreams, at first offered, then reneged upon by the magic of movies and the wide-open expanse of a country teeming with opportunity and riches.

The riches awaiting Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi) in Fargo, North Dakota are, given her lot in life, seemingly untold. She knows this all too well and in fact, knows it more than all of us. You see, night after night, for God-knows-how-many-years, the sad-eyed, lonely, friendless "office girl" has come home from long work days under the harsh fluorescent wash of lights in an anonymous corporate tower in Tokyo and settled down in her dreary apartment to ingest a bowl of packaged noodles.

Untold riches await Kumiko in Fargo, North Dakota
Accompanying the modest meal, she inserts a well-worn VHS tape of the Coen Brothers' Fargo into a clunky, ancient VCR, and watches the events unfold on a tiny TV screen in order to study every detail of the precise location where the hapless, critically wounded Steve Buscemi hides a briefcase full of ransom money that he'll never, ever be able to retrieve.

Kumiko, having placed considerable faith in the opening titles of the film which proclaim that Fargo is a "true" story, obsessively pauses the VHS image upon salient details in order to create a detailed treasure map. It's quite an ingenious plan, at least to Kumiko. Movies are so often about dreams coming true, especially American movies and though the dreams don't come true for the characters in Fargo, she believes that the film itself can make her dreams come true.

Kumiko is clearly suffering from depression. She's teased by all the upwardly mobile young ladies at work, the boss lectures her about lacking ambition, her mother complains endlessly on the telephone about Kumiko being unmarried and even a chance meeting with a dear, old friend from elementary school goes awry when Kumiko storms out of the teahouse she meets her in, crushed by the shame of not having a child and husband as her friend is happily in possession of.

Kumiko has not known any such happiness. In fact, she appears to have never been acquainted with any happiness. Only Fargo gives her hope that one day, she too can be happy.

FARGO gives Kumiko hope that one day, she will be happy.
As luck would have it, her boss gives her the company credit card to buy his wife a birthday gift. This is the chance Kumiko knows she must take. After all, whatever money she embezzles from her boss can be paid back once she finds the hidden treasure of Fargo. The American Dream and all of its untold promise and riches is a mere flight from Tokyo to Minneapolis, Minnesota.

She must take the plunge.

Bidding a teary-eyed farewell to the only thing in the world she loves, her dwarf bunny, Kumiko then hops aboard the first available airplane, eventually landing in the middle of a harsh Minnesota winter. Her odyssey through the heartland of America is the stuff movies are made of.

Alas, dreams are not always made of the same thing.

What the Zellner duo have achieved here seems almost incalculable, especially as they eventually infuse you with joy and sadness all at once during the film's final act. One thing is certain, they have etched an indelible portrait of hope in the face of unyielding madness. We're given the opportunity to experience an America not unlike that which the Coen Brothers detailed in Fargo, however, none of it in the Zellners' film feels derivative and manages, thankfully, to avoid even a shred of film-geek homage. Fargo, the movie, is not just an instrument which inspires Kumiko's desires, it's like a part of Kumiko's character and soul and represents an ethos of both America and madness. Kumiko is no mere stranger in a strange land, but a stranger in her own land who becomes a stranger in a strange land - a woman without a country save for that which exists in her mind.

There isn't a false note to be found in this gorgeously acted, directed and photographed movie. It is not without humour, but none of it is at Kumiko's expense and when the film slowly slides into full blown tragedy, the Zellners surround Kumiko in the ever-accumulating high winds and snow under the big skies of Minnesota. We get, as she does, a bittersweet taste of happiness - a dream of triumph, a dream of reunion, a dream of peace, at last.


Kumiko The Treasure Hunter screened at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival. (TADFF 2014) It will be released theatrically in Canada via FilmsWeLike and in the USA via Amplify Releasing.