By Darin Skaggs
Everyone in their life wants to accomplish something big, like watching all the Harry Potter films in one sitting or becoming the President of the United States. There are countless situations many people strive to gain a sense of accomplishments and maybe even praised for what we have done. The whole process could take over one’s life and possible even destroy it. David Zellner’s Kumiko the Treasure Hunter takes that idea as well as the dangers of taking movies too seriously and makes a strange, beautiful picture about a lonely woman who desperately needs to find the treasure from the falsely claimed “True story” Fargo.
Our protagonist Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi) is a lost, lonely and clearly depressed woman who might just be totally insane. Before we know any of this we see her walk along a rocky beach, enter a small cave and find a beaten up VHS tape of the Coen brothers film Fargo. We soon learn that searching for things is one of the only tasks that bring her happiness. We see her interact with her boss, coworkers and even her family and friends and it is clear she wants nothing to do with any of them. It feels that her lack of confidence is what brings her to this state of mind, the healthiest relationship she has is with her bunny who she has given the name Bunzo. She only seems motivated when she is obsessively taking notes so she can find the infamous buried briefcase from the classic Coen brother movie.
Here is where the themes come through. It is clearly a look at depression and the cold affect that having a lack of human contact will have on a person. Mainly, it deals with the kind of affect movies have on those who avoid the real world. She shuns reality every step she gets and is cursed by the fact she needs her job to pay to isolate herself in her apartment. The only part of her life she can trust and believe in is entertainment and the chance to find anything someone wanted hidden. So she travels to America to find the hidden treasure.
The second half of this movie is an emotional shift in tone for Kumiko. She runs into several people who hear all about her impossible journey and decide to help, but also do not hesitate to be honest with her and let her know what she is doing is crazy and not possible. It becomes the opposite of her life in Tokyo, where she had been put down and no one telling her to find help from her clear sadness. She spends most of her time with a local police man, played by the director himself, who is the nicest and most helpful to our young naive hero. Due to her lack of social skills and loneliness Kumiko takes these gestures as romantic. It proves Kumiko is close to becoming part of society and could become a part of someone’s life, but is too scared to give in to anything close to that proven by when she is immediately rejected by the marred police officer and runs away.
Fargo is actually a huge influence on this film. Zeller is clearly a huge fan of the brothers and makes his own quirky version of a Coen movie. The movie is sad, but full of dark humor, which is just what the Coen brothers are known for. It finds such a perfect blend of melancholy and beauty that it’s ending makes Kumiko such a fantastic experience.