If you’re a fan of original movies with strong performances, killer music, and quirky characters, go see Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter and wait to read this review until afterwards. It doesn’t have any major spoilers, but I think you’re better off seeing it for the first time with as little knowledge of the plot as possible. I was told the synopsis beforehand and it did get me excited to see the movie, but I would’ve preferred to go in blind.
Now that we have that out of the way, let me tell you, Kumiko is a solid flick and a fun experience. On the surface it’s a quirky adventure story with an air of mystery, but it’s deeper than that. It’s also (among other things) a character study of a young, troubled loner. Rinko Kikuchi (Babel, Pacific Rim) plays the titular character and does a tremendous job of portraying Kumiko’s feelings and emotions without verbally expressing them. She lives in Tokyo and loathes her office job. She’s almost 30 and her mother desperately wants her to get married. Kumiko isn’t interested in that, in fact the only thing that brings her to life is a VHS tape that she finds under a rock in a cave. (This is where you stop reading if you want things to be a surprise).
The VHS tape is Fargo, and Kumiko thinks the bag of money Steve Buscemi buries in the snow is real. It’s her discovery and she’s going to the States to claim it. As I watched, I knew it was absurd, but I still wondered, is she onto something? Is she crazy, or does she know something we don’t? What’s going on here?? I was more than happy to go along for the ride, one that is engaging, often funny, sometimes sad, and beautifully told by the Zellner brothers (David, writer/director and Nathan, writer).
As the film transitions to Minnesota it changes visually and tonally. (The movie was shot on location in and around Tokyo and Minneapolis.) We’re introduced to an assortment of characters that feel like they were plucked right out of a Coen brothers film. Parts of the movie are Coenesque but it manages to be it’s own thing as well as a nice tip of the cap. The camerawork is excellent, as is the score. The Zellner brothers have worked with The Octopuss Project before and the haunting, melancholic music is a perfect fit.
Kumiko’s quest reminded me of another protagonist on his own eccentric voyage. In Nebraska, Bruce Dern’s character Woody receives a piece of junk mail stating that he’s won a mega sweepstakes and he takes off on a mission to claim his prize. There are plenty of parallels to draw between the two characters and I think the films would make a great double-feature.
To be honest, I’m still not sure how I feel about the ending of Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter. Some folks may love it, others might look at it as a cop out. As the cliché goes, it’s not the destination that matters, but the journey. This is one worth taking.
4 out of 5 Nerdskulls
Essential Viewing: Fargo, Nebraska, King of California, The Straight Story
Check out the trailer:
Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter is currently playing in Houston at Alamo Drafthouse Vintage Park.
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