Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter – Day Five at the Sarasota Film Festival

Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter begins on a beach with a woman following a treasure map which leads to a cave, where she finds a VHS cassette. Although almost unwatchable, we can determine that this Video tape is Fargo, written, produced, and directed by the Coen Bros. – Joel and Ethan.

I don’t think this was just circumstantial as Kumiko was written by another pair of brothers – David and Nathan Zellner, with David helming the film as Director. By the way, David Zellner was in the house tonight for the screening of his film. There was a Q & A after the screening.

But I digress. We learn over the next 45 minutes, that Kumiko is an OL (office lady) with a domineering mother (are you dating anyone? – how’s the job? – why is it that you never answer the phone?) Her boss uses her to make tea, deliver his suits to the dry-cleaners and so forth. He complains about the tea – did you let it steep?

Kumiko is at once lonely, and though only 29, she’s older than most of the girls at the office. She avoids her friends, ignores the mail mounting up in her mail box, is unresponsive at work as well as toward her mother. With a population approaching 15 million it seems that it is not easy to be lonely in Tokyo, a densely populated city  in the land of the rising sun, the home of gleaming bullet trains, the bright lights and glitter of Tokyo’s neon bound areas of Ginza and Shinjuku. But Kumiko is withdrawn and seems interested only in her pet rabbit named Bunzo, and the film Fargo.

Without much else going on, Kumiko’s interest in Fargo takes on a life of its own. Kumiko believes that the story of Fargo is real, and where ever it was that the Steve Buscemi character buried that case of money, it can be found, and she is going to be the one who finds it.

Kumiko, almost a stranger in her own land, goes above and beyond. The VHS tape becomes snagged and useless, so she must buy a DVD player and the DVD of Fargo. Now of course, the images of the brief case of money being buried become so very real. Using mathematics and geometry, Kumiko fashions a hand-sewn treasure map of the location of the buried treasure. She even tries to steal a map book from the public library. She’s busted attempting this  – but bargains or bribes her way into the specific page she needs.

Her destiny is before her, and we’re in on it too. We are not surprised in the least when Kumiko dumps the suits, just picked up at the dry-cleaners, some how arrives at a decision to set Bunzo the rabbit free, and finally, she will abscond with a company credit card that her boss gave to her so she could buy his a wife a nice birthday gift.

What shall I get? I don’t care as long as it is nice.

Next stop Minneapolis.

The Japanese settings were finely tuned. We are not shocked in the least by Kumiko’s behavior. As portrayed beautifully by Rinko Kikuchi, the character is hauntingly strange but not abhorrent. Even though she appears despondent, and even isolated, we can see that it is by her own choice, which should make us feel somewhat less concerned about her well-being. Yet we are solidly behind her.

Once she lands in the USA at the Minneapolis airport – the film must switch gears. Kumiko is still going to search until she finds the treasure – come what may. But now we have American characters who will interact with her.

First there are tourist aides at the airport who while helpful, we just might consider them as somewhat cultish. There’s interstate bus driver, a vaguely Indian motel owner, a lonely elderly widow who takes Kumiko in, and finally, a trying hard to help local sheriff who had received a report of a strange woman walking in the snow while wrapped in a blanket.

In this second half, the Zellners inject some humor. Not jokes mind you, but more of the kind of situational humor stemming from folks in Minnesota’s north country not knowing exactly what to make of a Japanese woman desperately trying to reach Fargo, ND.

Some folks in the theater laughed out loud at a few of the more appropriate times, while others simply smiled. There was a sense of awkwardness = not by Kumiko – but we felt badly for the Americans. While help and aid can be and were offered, the cultural differences were bound to appear, and did, even without any negative intentions by the characters, or the script.

Kumiko trudges on both literally and figuratively – following her instincts rather than a set of instructions. It is obvious that she’s not really planned much beyond her preparing the treasure map and flying off to Minneapolis.

While I won’t call the film gripping – it is certainly involving. We know that Fargo is a fictional movie created by the Coens. But Kumiko has bought into Fargo’s banner – based on real events or did it say based on a true story. Either way, Kumiko will not rest until she has the treasure in her hands.

I will heartily recommend this film. The Japanese half was solid, even with a heavy-handed boss, uppity co-workers, and friends that Kumiko kept at arm’s length. The American half  finds Kumiko in our own land.  While she appears driven, to the point of obsession and past, it is the American characters that you might find fault with.

The Zellners and Rinko Kikuchi

The Zellners and Rinko Kikuchi

Following successes at SXSW, Sundance, and now the SFF, you should see the film if you get a chance. Don’t worry about the transition from a crowded, cramped Tokyo apartment to the near silent wastelands of the Minnesota tundra, and don’t let desolation stop you. If you have an indie theater or an art house in your area, then watch for it. Four point zero out of five.