Featuring: Rinko Kikuchi, Nobuyuki Katsube, Shirley Venard, David Zellner
Director: David Zellner
Screenwriters: David Zellner, Nathan Zellner
Movie Website: www.palacefilms.com.au/kumikothetreasurehunter/
Verdict: Compellingly weird after a slow start, but seriously undermined by a bum premise that is just not credible.
There’s a fundamental problem here and it’s serious, mum: the premise. Twenty-something Tokyo based Kumiko is obsessed with the Coen brothers’ movie Fargo, or rather, the suitcase of loot one of the characters is seen to stash deep in the snow. She spends her time after work cooped up in her flat, which she shares with cute pet rabbit Bunzo, re-watching the stashing scene over and over on an old video player (why would she persist with such a relic?). When the worn out tape finally gives up the ghost, she buys a DVD player to continue her investigation until she is certain she has pinpointed the location of the suitcase, whereupon she ups and leaves for America without notice, determined to recover her “treasure”.
Kumiko is a strange woman, a solitary misfit, socially awkward and maladjusted. She is hounded by her mother, who is disappointed she is still single. She is embittered and miserable with her lot as an “Office Lady” (and fair enough – her boss is a patronising jerk who treats her as his personal maid). To be brutally frank, though, she is pretty dull and unlikeable (it doesn’t help her cause that before setting off for America she gets rid of Bunzo by setting him down in a train carriage, although she makes up some credit points in farewelling him from the station with a torrent of tears as the train moves off). She is not a romantic, not hostage to an over-active imagination or a hopeless dreamer lost in the world of cinema, and although depressed and suffering from some sort of personality disorder, is neither deranged nor intellectually deficient. How then, is it credible that she has such a feeble grasp on reality that she is unable to differentiate between documentary and cinematic fiction?
Quite simply, it is not.
This major flaw aside, from the point at which Kumiko departs for America, financed by a company card she has stolen from her boss, the film turns compellingly weird. She makes straight for Minnesota with the town of Fargo in her sights, certain that she is destined to recover the snow-covered “treasure” as her own, and permanently escape her dreary existence in Tokyo.
As she moves geographically closer to her goal, the desolate winterscape shots of Minnesota rendered indelible by the Coens become ever more dominant, and characters emerge that could have walked straight off the set of Fargo. One, a police officer, is kind to Kumiko, going way above and beyond the call of duty to help her, yet he ends up unwittingly hurting her, propelling her on her apparently doomed journey rather than saving her from her folly. Very Coens, this sort of paradox. Indeed, it is as if the Zellners, like their protagonist Kumiko, are submitting to a Fargo obsession, allowing their film to be subsumed, overtaken by the sense of foreboding and terrible, barren beauty of its inspirational source. One movie possessed by another? This is beyond cinematic referentiality (yawn). It’s downright whacked out and spooky. Like.
The ending that lies in store is at once fairy tale happy-ever-after and tragic, and although it might induce eye-rolling in some, it works as a resolution to the narrative. However, the conclusion is devoid of emotional power, partly because it is difficult to identify with Kumiko or her quest. Which goes back to that bloody premise.
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