Review: ‘Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter’ [SXSW 2014]

Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter Still

Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter | David Zellner | SXSW 2014


Fargo is one of those movies that has a huge impact on many film lovers, and for good reason, it’s as memorable as they come. The Coen Brothers classic is the driving plot point of Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter, the new feature from a different pair of brothers. The film was directed by David Zellner who also co-wrote the film with his brother Nathan Zellner.

In it, the titular character Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi) is a lonely Japanese girl who is so transfixed by Fargo that she actually believes that the movie is true and that the money that Steve Buscemi’s character buries in the snow is still there. It sounds bizarre, but when you see the lonely and somewhat sad life that Kumiko leads, it begins to make some sense.

She’s miserable at her job, working as an assistant to the boss at her company. She hates it so much there that she’d rather spit in his tea than think about staying there any longer. Her mom calls only to nag her about her job and lack of success in the romantic department.

The only solace Kimiko finds in her day is when she comes home to her pet rabbit and watches an old VHS tape of Fargo. It’s during these viewings that she becomes totally transfixed by the film’s buried money briefcase scene that she draws up a map and a plan to eventually find the “treasure.” When her boss gives her the company credit card for a task she decides enough is enough and she flies from Japan to Minnesota to make her dream into a reality.

Her journey to America is a difficult one as she’s lost in translation, only knowing a few key phrases, mainly that she wants to go to Fargo. Throughout her journey she meets a bunch of rather nice characters who try to help her along the way. Some are even played by the Zellner’s themselves. They try their best to discourage her journey, even to the point where they break the news to her that the money isn’t real, it’s just a movie.

Heartbroken, Kumiko stays stubborn and persistent to find her loot. She’s come too far not to. There’s an eccentric vibe to the film that works because the Zellner brothers are able to find a balance between the humor and sadness. There’s enough laughs to balance out the rather sad nature of the film. Please don’t be mistaken, this is a rather sad film. Even with the hopefulness of Kumiko, her naivety and imagination have her believing in a false promise of treasure, something that she hopes will better her somewhat sad life.

Kumiko works because of the lead performance of Rinko Kikuchi (Pacific Rim, 47 Ronin). During the second half she hardly says anything. She is able to deliver all of the characters emotion from her expressive eyes, which say much more than words ever could. She conveys the solitary nature of the character while also providing her tough spirit.

David Zellner captures Minnesota wonderfully, obviously owing a great deal to the Coen’s. Even so, the Zellner’s have an imaginative mind that is brought to life an an interesting and moving fashion throughout Kumiko’s interesting runtime. Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter is an interesting journey. It won’t affect everyone the same, but it will affect you after its rather haunting conclusion.

8.0/10