“Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter” Discovers the Joy of Living

The Zeller Brothers (David and Nathan) have clearly drawn a great deal of professional and artistic inspiration from the Coen Brothers in the creation of the pleasantly melancholic Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter. In response to the modern world surrounding her, Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi of Babel and Pacific Rim fame) seeks something more rewarding than the doldrums of her everyday life. She finds her solace in her pet rabbit Bunzo and an old beaten up VHS copy of the Coen Bros. magnificent film Fargo, and believes that the film actually is based on a true story, as the title card to Fargo suggests. To unearth the treasure, Kumiko embarks on a quixotic adventure to escape from the greyness and isolation of her everyday life.

This picturesque film opens and closes with a weary somnambulism, as the titular Kumiko wanders through a very dream-like atmosphere. In the opening sequence, Kumiko discovers a beaten-up videotape on the floor of a cave. Watching it, she is enamored to see the opening title card of Fargo:

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Believing this to be a genuine documentary, she obsesses over the location of the treasure depicted at the end of the film. She traces the scenery onto paper in an effort to generate a map for later, and appears to enjoy these early stages of the hunt. The rest of her life, however, is grey and tedious. Her mother nags and dotes on her, upset that she can’t just find a man. Her boss believes her to be incompetent, and her coworkers exclude her from lunch outings and whisper behind her back. Besides the time she spends with her pet Bunzo, the only joy she experiences is while watching Fargo and planning her treasure cruise, even when she is stealing an atlas from her local library.

Eventually, the dreariness of Kumiko’s world overwhelms her. Spurred on by the hiring of a younger secretary, Kumiko releases Bunzo on the subway before using the company credit card to book a flight to Minnesota. Upon arriving, it becomes clear just how under-prepared she is, as she speaks little English, lacks appropriate clothing, and predictably has the company credit card cancelled. As a result, her journey becomes more arduous and desperate, though she eventually befriends a local police officer who attempts to explain to her that Fargo is fictitious. The two experience amazing frustration attempting to convey the nuances of their respective worldviews. The officer can’t quite explain how Fargo’s title card is artistic license, and Kumiko fails to impart her sense of adventure and the importance of the treasure to her.

In an effort to better understand each other, the officer takes Kumiko to a Chinese restaurant, mistakenly thinking that they could help translating. Eventually, Kumiko grows angrier at the officer’s insistence that Fargo is not real, and she runs away from him, hopping into a cab. She likewise deserts the cabdriver when she thinks she is close to the treasure, and wanders across a frozen lake in search of that ice scraper marking the spot.

The importance of whether Kumiko discovers her quarry or not begins to fade at this point in the story as our empathy for her exposes our own worry that we aren’t living life to its fullest. Though Kumiko may be naive and dysfunctional, her desire to shuffle the coil of mediocrity and pursue the beauty and joy in living is poignant and heart-warming. Rinko Kikuchi is able to imbue Kumiko with all of these subtle traits throughout her performance, and the result is a tragic yet wonderful character who reminds us that to reach for a dream and fail rewards more than a lifetime of providence.

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