Written by Steve Kim.
Inspired by an urban legend, Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter tells the story of a young, reclusive Japanese woman who is convinced that the treasure from the movie Fargo actually exists. Determined to find it, she leaves Tokyo and arrives in North Dakota, in the dead of winter, to seek her treasure.
In addition to its peculiar premise that brings an urban legend to life, the film delivers and balances hilarity and adorableness with feelings of isolation and soul-crushing non-acceptance with precision. The humor isn’t necessarily there as a form of comic relief, but is rather weaved into the melancholy without a hitch; think Spike Jonze.
Rinko Kikuchi delivered an incredible performance as the complete opposite of her character in Pacific Rim. Most notable were her nuanced (and not-so-nuanced) little quirks that really accented the dissatisfied Kumiko’s borderline-misanthropy, awkwardness, and selective-apathy; she seemed as lost in Tokyo as she was in the Upper Midwest.
The Zellner Brothers’s direction of the film was precise and artful. In my second viewing of the film, I picked up on several hidden background details that collectively gave the film an added degree of personality and made it greater than it already was. It is careful, subtle decisions like these that can really elevate a film’s quality. They also aptly maneuvered their way around potentially bad jokes and scenarios with their presentation of the cultural dichotomy and managed to create moments, both funny and insightful, in a non-offensive way.
Lastly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the film’s absolutely gorgeous cinematography. Subdued shots of Tokyo in the rain and the Midwest in the snow largely contribute to the film’s melancholic tone and serve as the perfect backdrop for Kumiko to live out the film’s bizarre narrative. Kudos to the DP, Sean Porter.
What doesn’t work?
The Octopus Project did an incredible job with the score, which was mesmerizing and uniquely served as a characterization tool for Kumiko at times. But in a scene or two, I felt that the droning got to be a little distracting. Otherwise, I found nothing at all to dislike about this film.
This definitely isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but I feel that it is accessible enough to enjoy or at least admire. The film’s wistful yet semi-playful tone, Kikuchi’s nuanced, layered portrayal of Kumiko, and precise direction from the directors make Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter one of my favorite movies of the year.