Review: Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter
Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter is a charming and eccentric character study from American filmmaking duo the Zellner brothers. Fuelled by a remarkable performance by Rinko Kikuchi, the film unfolds as a surreal and hilarious fairy tale driven by alienation and imagination. Though Kumiko surely wont appeal to every one, those who get it are really going to get it.
The film begins with in contemporary Japan, where we meet film’s protagonist, Kumiko. Following some sort of cross-stitched treasure map, she unearths a buried copy of the Coen brothers’ Fargo on VHS tape (it’s worth noting that that film begins with an intentionally misleading ‘based on a true story’ foreword). A viewing of the tape leads her to begin an absurd and obsessive quest to uncover the briefcase full of cash (“untold fortunes” she tells her nagging mother), which is buried in the snow during Fargo’s climax.
Kikuchi (Norwegian Wood, Babel) stars as Kumiko, and fills the character with such a gloriously earnest sensitivity, all shudders, trepidation, and massive eyes, that the admittedly ridiculous plot takes on a curious poetry. We, the audience, begin to pull for the fiction as desperately as Kumiko herself does, and believe in spite of ourselves that there is hope in the hopelessness.
This is helped in no small part by the Zellner brothers’ deft eye for acute absurdities and obvious empathy and warmth they feel towards their protagonist. It’s saying something that the films funniest and saddest moments often come in conjunction with each other.
Mostly showing a light and restrained directorial hand so as to allow their cast of oddball extras to flourish (or flounder) in their various settings, their occasional poetic visual trappings pair beautifully with the Octopus Project’s score, to make you wonder what kind of verisimilitude the Zellner brothers are really interested in digging up.
NZIFF: Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter
D: David Zellner (USA, 2014, 104 minutes)
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