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USA 2014
Directed by
David Zellner
105 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter

Synopsis: A depressed Tokyo woman (Rinko Kikuchi) is obsessed with finding the money hidden by Steve Buscemi’s character in the Coen brothers’ 1996 film, Fargo.  

Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter is a black comedy that rewards more in style and attitude than narrative development. In fact in the latter respect it is a little frustrating.

If you are a fan of the films of Aki Kaurismaki such as Le Havre and The Man Without A Past or even those of  Jim Jarmusch, particularly Mystery Train, then you should enjoy this wickedly dry story of urban alienation, mental breakdown and cross-cultural misunderstanding.  If you are looking for gags or action, look elsewhere.

Co-written by director David Zellner with his brother Nathan (yet another entry to the fraternal film-making category. Where are the sisters or even just siblings?) the pleasures of the filmically-savvy Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter are deeply ironic. With the core idea of a profoundly depressed Tokyo “Office Lady” who hates her self-satisfied boss, is shunned by her compliant colleagues and nagged by her mother for not being married and who escapes into a loopily wrong-headed fantasy, the film is imbued with a pervading sense of loneliness and disappointment. This is beautifully revealed in a series of exquisitely-composed but awkward encounters with Rinko Kikuchi, who spends almost the entire film in a state of withdrawn silence and framed by her red duffel coat (and later a poncho made from a motel quilt), compelling in the lead

In realizing their tale of ordinary madness the Zellners, well-aided  by the cinematography of Sean Porter and a score by The Octopus Project, achieve a deft visual and conceptual minimalism that will delight some, madden others.  

Whilst at times the plotting is overly contrived, particularly when Kumiko gets to America, and I never understood how or why she ‘discovers” a VHS tape of Fargo in a seaside cave, for me the film’s ending is its weakest aspect. Had it simply stopped five minutes earlier it would have been much more effective.  It’s worth checking out, however, to see if you agree.

FYI: Based on real events, for those interested in filmic construction it is worth checking out the facts behind the Zellner's fiction.




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