“Kumiko the Treasure Hunter”
Directed by David Zellner
Starring Rinko Kikuchi, Nobuyuki Katsube, David Zellner, Nathan Zellner, Shirley Venard
“Based on a true story” the title card blares, half-legible in crusty, bite-sized pixelations of a magnified television screen. One chunky word at a time, each letter pronounced, amplified, stuffed in our faces. Pulled straight from Fargo‘s opening sequence (the lauded Coen Bros film goes on to become a key character in the film) and scattered by tightrope zooms, this intriguing unveiling of Kumiko the Treasure Hunter immediately begs question about the veracity of what we’re going to witness.
Mythology is the product of hyperbolization, truth a creation of the tale teller. In the Hollywoodization of minor mythologies, characters are tailored around Jungian archetypes. Protagonists walk the line of the hero’s journey. Themes, characters and places are omnipresent and recurring. Real life though is one big mess, a scattershot cacophony of chance, a roulette of black and red spaces, a trail of 0s and 1s leading to the great beyond. Kumiko the Treasure Hunter embodies the confuddling mess that is real life.
Before the movie has even begun, we’re wondering whether we’re watching fact or fiction, true events or some yarn, and what the difference is anyways. In one fell swoop, American director David Zellner has planted a seed of doubt, leading us to question what qualifies a true story anyways and asking whether that “based on…” disclaimer at the forefront is meant to alter the way that we then consume the film. Zellner’s rapping is a smart feat of intellectual manipulation but it’s only the tip of an iceberg of misdirection to come.
Kumiko is the story of one girl who couldn’t sift “based on” from reality. Through and through a misanthrope, Kumiko’s ho-hum days revolve around her subpar position as an office lady, a position of low standing in her native land of Tokyo – especially for a unmarried girl her age. We meet Kumiko wandering the salt-licked, thorny shoals of Toyko’s coast, prodding a yarn-stabbed canvas treasure map and pecking her way over chilly puddles into an improbable hole carved in the ocean-pounded blackstone. In the belly of this near magical enclosure, she digs up the “X” on her map to find a VHS loving wrapped in burlap. That VHS is Fargo and when she pops it in her dusty VCR at home, her life takes a twist towards the unexpected, setting her on a crash course with the blustery, unwelcoming plains of Minnesota on a hunt from the lost satchel of Benjamins that Steve Buchemi‘s traitorous Fargo character hurriedly stuffed in the snow and marked only with an ice scraper.
Armed with the hubris of obsession and a red hoodie, Kumiko abandons her overbearing mother, her misappropriating boss and her one friend in the world – the noodle-chomping Bunzo the bunny – to brave the foreign marshes of Americana. Imbued with all the wrong interpretations of the American dream – that riches are literally buried in the Earth and maps exist to guide one there – she’s tragically unprepared, only barely capable of chopping through the occasion English word or two and lacking the winter gear required for a Minnesota January.
Out here in the wild throes of a gusty suburban sprawl, she’s got her manifest destiny mixed up with fairy tales. Her journey is one of a maniac but no matter how strange Kumiko is, she never has fully lost her sanity. There’s always an inkling of suspicion of the real world lingering behind the black pools that are Rinko Kikuchi‘s ever thinking eyes. No, she’s not stark, raving mad. She’s going the distance. Borderline eremitic, Kumkio has taken a vow of no surrender. No matter what immeasurable odds stack up against her, she is committed to her quest, married to that forlorn satchel buried somewhere out there in the snow, willing to swallow the pill of do or die. Watching her dizzyingly reckless plot, photographed by Sean Porter‘s dynamic eye and rinsed with The Octopus Project‘s magical score, The Zellner Brothers cast an indelible spell, they help us find the beauty in banality, the peace in tragedy.