“This is a true story. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 1987. At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed. Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred.”
– So begins 1996’s Fargo, the basis for the new film by the Zellner Brothers, Kumiko The Treasure Hunter.
Kumiko The Treasure Hunter tells the story of Japanese woman who is dissatisfied with her life. She has a job that bores her, no friends to be seen and a mother that keeps hounding her about getting married. Then one day she discovers a beaten up old VHS tape of Fargo. She takes the words at the beginning seriously and sets off on a journey to find the money buried by Carl Showalter at the end of film. These are the broad strokes of Kumiko, but the film is so much more than those.
At its core, the film is a psychological journey through Kumiko’s mind. Throughout the film you ask, is she simply ignorant or is she mentally-ill to believe that she can find this treasure? But then, a third option at times occurs to you that is even more interesting: What if she’s right? What if she does find this treasure?
That is not to say it is some mind-bending thriller though. Kumiko manages to stay fairly grounded, no matter how ridiculous the plot seems, and its pacing is closer to The Godfather than it is to Inception. While the pacing does pick up as the film moves along, toward the beginning, there are times where it is almost unbearably slow. The film was only 105 minutes, but it could have easily been 100 or 95 minutes just by tweaking the pacing a bit.
Still, in these slower moments, you also get fantastic glimpses into the mind of Kumiko through the incredible performance of Rinko Kikuchi. While the role asks for very little dialogue, Kikuchi wears her thoughts and emotions on her sleeve, letting you in just enough through her facial expressions and posture. It is fascinating to watch her display complete confidence in this far-fetched journey, even as those around her smirk at the thought of it.
The greatest aspect of the film though, is the cinematography by Sean Porter. Every frame of this movie looks like it belongs in an art museum. The way he uses Kumiko’s red hoodie as the focal point of most of the film, setting up perfectly contrasting backgrounds to put her against, is completely masterful.
There is one scene in particular though, that blew me away, both for its simplicity and its beauty. The scene has Kumiko start in a doorway talking on a phone. Behind her to the left, a mirror is placed in the corner so that when she moves out of the doorway and behind the wall, the audience can still see her in the mirror. Then she moves back to the doorway, creating a beautiful scene without ever having to change camera angles.
And Porter uses these kind of interesting shots throughout the film, never taking the easy way out. Every shot in Kumiko is meticulously thought out, making it one of the most gorgeous films I have ever seen. Really, even if the story would have been terrible, it would have been worth it just to watch this film for the visuals alone.
And the story isn’t terrible! Throughout Kumiko’s journey there are slightly comedic parts, sad moments and even times of complete wonder. Though most of the film is quite even-keeled and even melancholy, the Zellner Brothers brilliantly mix in these deeper moments that break the tension of some of the slower parts. The comedy especially is perfectly done, playing with Midwestern culture like Fargo does, just in a more down-to-earth, realistic way.
Overall, one of the few flaws I found in the film and one of the few things I could see that other people didn’t like about it was the pacing. It is true that Kumiko The Treasure Hunter is no Indiana Jones and at times it gets pretty slow. I mean, I watched this when I was tired and toward the beginning I had to fight to stay awake. So, yes, that could have been handled better but, Kumiko is such a brilliant film in so many other ways that you can’t help but keep watching (and the pacing does get better).
Kumiko The Treasure Hunter, in the end, is a slightly flawed masterpiece of a film. The performances, story, cinematography and the music (incredible score by The Octopus Project) all completely blew me away. And is there another modern film that looks and sounds so good? I really can’t think of one.