During the film’s introduction at it’s first screening of this year’s Sydney Film Festival the director, David Zellner, felt the need to quickly clarify that Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter is based on an urban legend. Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi) is a blunted loner obsessed with seeking out buried treasure. In a dream like sequence that opens the film Kumiko follows a map to a jagged coastline and a doorway into a small cave. Bandaged beneath a rock in the centre of a cave is a VHS tape. Kumiko takes the tape home and discovers not a rare treasure but the Coen brothers Fargo. Despite the glaringly obvious fiction, the opening title and it’s claim, “THIS IS A TRUE STORY” convinces Kumiko that a briefcase of buried treasure next to the roadside hasn’t been claimed.
David Zellner and Nathan Zellner have an absolute ball with Kumiko’s dimwittedness. Watching her wriggle through a nine to five existence struggling with inter office relationships, the quandary she faces every time she makes her boss a tea (to spit or not to spit) and in her personal life the measures she takes to ensure that she doesn’t have to hear her critical mother barking down the phone. Kumiko is a precarious character to write. She’s not likeable, she’s intentionally cloaked or been institutionalised by her job in a way that masks what becomes a glaring mental deficiency and she is increasingly amoral. When her boss has a lapse and hands her the company business card she plans her escape to Fargo, North Dakota. There’s just one last thing she must do, set her bunny (and only friend) Bunzo free. This intuits the likely outcome of the film as a domesticated creature Bunzo/Kumiko is released into the wild. David Zellner’s direction makes Kumiko’s Tokyo feel as alien to her presence as Minnesota. The sweeping Tokyo feels small because Kumiko’s life there is so insular. Once she arrives in the U.S the span of the oppressive glacial landscape seems to shrink Kumiko even further. David Zellner directs the film beautifully, particularly stringing together the moments for comedic effect in Tokyo and gawking at the ominous scope of the Minnesotan terrain. The score is really quite special. Carter Burwell’s incredible original score from Fargo is riffed upon and remixed throughout.
Kikuchi really has two poles, on the one hand she’s as adorable as Kumiko’s bunny Bunzo, she’s tame to the point of lobotomy. On the other hand she’s motivated by greed and an easy escape from her life. It’s so conflicting because the entire time you want be able to renounce her completely sociopathic behaviour but simultaneously you don’t want to feel as though you’re being critical of a character that’s on the spectrum.
Shirley Venard’s sweet old Minnesotan woman is just perfectly hilarious and strangely opportunistic in her discovery of Kumiko as a potential companion. Instead of even entertaining her journey to Fargo she offers to put her up for the night and take her to the ‘Mall of America’ instead. David Zellner stars as a Sheriff who spots her walking along the roadside and gets to say what the audience has wanted to say for the entire film. Zellner’s performance as Kumiko flees is conveyed with this tragic knowledge of the outcome.
Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter continues to create dissent in my mind; and that certainly makes it worthwhile.
[rating=2] and a half
Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Directed by: David Zellner
Written by: David Zellner and Nathan Zellner
Starring: Rinko Kikuchi, Shirley Venard, David Zellner
SV: Older Woman