Thursday, 2 April 2015


FARGO gives Kumiko hope that one day, she will be happy.
starring Rinko Kikuchi
opens theatrically across Canada

An Interview with the Zellner Bros.
by Greg Klymkiw

Kumiko travels from Tokyo to Fargo in search of treasure.
Kumiko, an office girl in Tokyo, is obsessed with the movie Fargo by the Coen Bros. She has been studying it so intently that her VHS copy eventually wears out. Convinced it's a true story, she creates a meticulous series of maps to find the treasure of riches Steve Buscemi hides in the snow - IN the movie. Eventually, she embarks upon a very strange, funny and harrowingly emotional odyssey.

American cinema, more than anything, has always exemplified the American Dream. Brilliantly responding to this notion, director David Zellner and his co-writer/producer brother Nathan, have created Kumiko The Treasure Hunter. It's one of the most haunting, tragic and profoundly moving explorations of mental illness ever made - especially within the context of the 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.

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.


GREG KLYMKIW: When I first saw Kumiko I had this fantasy that you guys were born and raised in either Minnesota or North Dakota, but you were born in Greeley, Colorado. I know you guys are in Austin, Texas these days, but how long did you actually live in Greeley?

We lived in Greeley until Nathan was 9 and I was 10. We loved Greeley and Colorado in general. We were very much into the outdoors there, camping, etc. It was our formative years, and it left a big impression on us. I was sort of obsessed with the state, probably idealized it a bit, but all throughout my youth I had a Colorado state flag on my wall, the prettiest of the US state flags in my opinion.

GREG KLYMKIW: Yeah, it IS a gorgeous flag.

Greeley is just north of Denver, in the plains. Sort of rural. Our parents were professors before they retired, so they taught there and then later moved to Texas when we were teenagers.

GREG KLYMKIW: When did you move to Austin?

DAVID ZELLNER: I moved to Austin to go to film school at UT. Nathan got a computer science degree at Texas A&M and then joined me in Austin afterwards.

I'm curious, living on the plains of Colorado can't be much different that living in Winnipeg or North Dakota or Minnesota. What did all that open sky do to you guys as little nippers? Was it something you drank in like really tasty soda pop or didn't it make much of a difference until later?

We had fond memories of winter growing up, from the first fall of the fresh pristine snow, to the end of the season when the sides of the roads were caked with stacks of oily frozen sludge. We'd never been to Minnesota prior to making Kumiko, though we had been to Japan, but the idea of a winter-set film full of snowy vast landscapes was appealing to us at least in part on a nostalgic level.

GREG KLYMKIW: Where in Texas did you guys move to after Greeley? Was the terrain/topography similar? I only know Dallas/Fort Worth areas, so I'm not sure what other regions of the state look like except from westerns.

We moved to a university town called College Station.
 Texas is pretty big and diverse, the major difference was the weather and lack of snow. Like David said, we missed the four seasons.

GREG KLYMKIW: Aside from being, uh, American, what was your family's ethnic background?

DAVID ZELLNER: A mix, our mom's side is mostly Irish, our dad's side had a lot of folks from Transylvania.

GREG KLYMKIW: When did you guys fall in love with movies?

NATHAN ZELLNER: We grew up as VHS kids, but always going out to see movies in the theatre - a lot of the early 80's blockbusters and further expanding our film-knowledge by reading the covers of VHS boxes in video stores. We've always gone to see movies in theatres, though.

GREG KLYMKIW: Did you guys always work together creatively?

DAVID ZELLNER: We've been making films since we were little kids with VHS and Super 8 cameras. Initially it stemmed from wanting to act/perform particular characters. Not knowing what a director or producer or cinematographer was liberating. It's fun at that age because you're just blindly creating things.

GREG KLYMKIW: So I assume film school is where you might have gotten a taste of the fact that maybe filmmaking WASN'T blindly creating things? I'm also interested in Nathan's academic background in computer science - is that something that brought anything to bear upon your film collaboration with David?

DAVID ZELLNER: Film school was great, but it was one of many elements of my education. The best part was access to 16mm equipment and meeting likeminded folks, many of whom I'm still close to.

NATHAN ZELLNER: We each have different strengths, David is the primary Director/Writer and I'm the primary Producer/Editor, but because of how we have worked since kids, everything overlaps. My background is more technical, and that has helped as filmmaking has evolved with the digital age. We ended up editing this film on the same computers it was written on.

GREG KLYMKIW: Kumiko floats around like a stranger in her own land. Or am I being too much of an egghead here?

DAVID ZELLNER: It's not something we really intellectualize or even discuss with one another, we just are drawn to outsider stories on some visceral level I guess.

GREG KLYMKIW: Why do you think you are attracted to stories about outsiders?

DAVID ZELLNER: I guess because we are outsiders.

NATHAN ZELLNER: Something about viewing the world from a different perspective seems to speak to us.

GREG KLYMKIW: How did you guys come up with this story? It's based on an urban legend, right?

NATHAN ZELLNER: We first came across a blurb about it on the internet, this story everyone assumed was true about this Japanese woman who went from Tokyo to Minnesota looking for the lost fortune from the Coen Bros. Fargo. It was before social media is like today, just a small bit of information on a message board that was being passed along like the telephone game. Maybe the lack of information made us more obsessed with it, but to satiate our curiosity, we started writing a script and developing a backstory and character to solve our own curiosity about the kind of person who would go on such a quest. Years later, after a couple drafts of the script, we checked back and more info was available, debunking the original story as an urban legend. At first we were taken aback, but because we had been living with our version of the "truth" for so long it was just as valid. We liked it even more, our addition to the myth, that is.

Reported in the April 7, 2002 issue:
Takako Konishi died looking for FARGO treasure.
GREG KLYMKIW: When did Rinko Kikuchi come into the picture?

DAVID ZELLNER: We met her in 2008, we'd seen her in Babel and a few Japanese films, including a great one called Funky Forest. 

We hit it off with her right away and she immediately dialed into the tone of what we were going for, the balance of humor and pathos

GREG KLYMKIW: Was her involvement tied to financing the film?

DAVID ZELLNER: Her involvement helped there, for sure, but it wasn't necessarily the crux. We seriously didn't have a close runner up for the role really. Once we met her, we knew she was perfect for it.

GREG KLYMKIW: You said you had visited Japan. When? Why? (Other than making the movie obviously). Do either of you speak Japanese? 

NATHAN ZELLNER: We love Tokyo, it's an amazing city. We had visited Japan as tourists a year before we initially heard the story which, in hindsight, was probably one of the reasons we were drawn to it. We don't speak Japanese. We tried to learn it but failed.

GREG KLYMKIW: What was it like for a couple of boys from Greeley, Colorado to work in Japan?

NATHAN ZELLNER: We had a great relationship with the crew over there and they got the tone we were going for. They were on the same page and so excited to help make the same film. They helped us with some cultural questions and the language barrier. We did a ton of homework before too, especially since we didn't want to film a tourist version of Tokyo.

GREG KLYMKIW: What were some of the aspects of Fargo that inspired you guys in the writing/making of your movie?

DAVID ZELLNER: We like Fargo and the Coens' work in general, but the whole Fargo thing was inherently part of the original urban legend that we wanted to turn into a movie.

GREG KLYMKIW: Did you guys have to make contact with the Coens to get the movie made? I assume they've seen it. Have they said anything to you guys about it?

NATHAN ZELLNER: The negotiations mainly went through the studio. We had to convince the powers-that-be there that this wasn't a sequel or wanker homage or spoof, but that the film was part of the legend and a conduit to her journey. I don't think the Coens have seen it. Hopefully they will see it some day.

GREG KLYMKIW: It kinda shocks me they haven't seen it yet. Oh well. Guess they're busy or something. By the way, 
Fargo is part of a strange little group of movies I call the most Canadian movies never made in Canada and not made by Canadians. Growing up in Winnipeg seemed identical to the world of Fargo. The movie felt like it was made in my own backyard. It's something I never feel with other American movies, except movies in this weird, little sub-genre I've conjured up for myself in order to temper my inherent Canadian inadequacy. The other movies in this sub genre are Slap Shot and, of course, your movie, Kumiko.

NATHAN ZELLNER: I love hearing that feedback about Canada. We enjoy how different people have different points-of-view on the film, usually based on where they are from. I'm happy Kumiko connected with you in that way. I've always wanted to visit Winnipeg.

GREG KLYMKIW: I haven't lived in Winnipeg for 20 years, but I go back every chance I can. There's nowhere like it in all of Canada. It was, in its heyday, considered "Little Chicago". Now, it's not much of anything, but I kind of like its current state of utter decrepitude.
 It was also, of course, a cool place to be when I produced Guy Maddin's early movies.

DAVID ZELLNER: I have to say that Tales from the Gimli Hospital, Archangel and Careful were a massive influence on us. Seeing those films for the first time in the early 90's was a really formative experience. They really blew my young impressionable mind. I remember seeing Gimli Hospital, not knowing what or where it came from, other than that it had to be some ancient artifact from long ago and far, far away, and then a few minutes into the movie I see a Super Big Gulp cup in a shot. I was hooked from that point on.

GREG KLYMKIW: I'm sure Guy and his screenwriter George Toles will love Kumiko. It's opening in Winnipeg, so I'm going to insist they see it. By the way, not only are Big Gulps popular in our neck of the woods, but Winnipeg is the Slurpee capital of Canada. Anyway, one last question. Do you guys, like, live in the same house in Austin or do you indeed have separate lives?

NATHAN ZELLNER: We used to live together, but that was along time ago. We have separate lives, now. It helps to keep perspective with our work. Of course, we talk and see each other often though.

Sorry that was, I guess, a semi-joke-question. I do, however, have this image of you two living in some kind of Austin version of PeeWee's Playhouse.

NATHAN ZELLNER: I wish we worked in a replica of PeeWee's Playhouse

Kumiko The Treasure Hunter is being released theatrically in Canada via FilmsWeLike. You can read the full version of my original review from its premiere at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival HERE.

Here are the venues and playdates across the country:

TIFF Bell Lightbox (Toronto, ON)
Starts Friday, April 3, 2015

Vancity Theatre (Vancouver, BC)
Starts Friday, April 3, 2015

Regina Public Film Library (Regina, SK)
Starts Thursday, April 3, 2015

Broadway Theatre (Saskatoon, SK )
Starts Saturday, April 4, 2015

Globe Cinema (Calgary, AB)
Starts Saturday, April 4, 2015

Bytowne Cinema (Ottawa, ON)
Starts Monday, April 6, 2015

City Cinema, (Charlottetown, PEI)
Starts Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Cinema du Parc (Montreal, QC)
Starts Friday, April 10, 2015

Hyland Cinema (London, ON)
Starts Friday, April 10, 2015

Revue Cinema (Toronto, ON)
Starts Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Royal (Toronto, ON)
Starts Thursday, April 23, 2015

Metro Cinema (Edmonton, AB)
Starts Friday, April 24, 2015

The Vic (Victoria, BC)
Friday, April 24, 2015

Winnipeg Film Group Cinemathque (Winnipeg, MB)
Starts Thursday, May 14, 2015