Life can be frustrating sometimes. It is probably too early to say that being a 22-year-old just out of college for nearly a year, but I get it. I can’t even believe the pressure that is set on Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi) as she slaves away at the age of 29 and tries to find her place in a world that just doesn’t seem to understand her — or her understand it.
Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter is a mature contemplation on life with a rather immature lead that is aided by the rather mature touch of a newer director (David Zellner) and a outstanding performance by Rinko Kikuchi in a role that she tailored for herself.
The film follows Kumiko, a 29-year-old office clerk, who is also an amateur treasure hunter. When she comes across a hidden VHS tape of Fargo, she decides to pursue the treasure that is hidden by Steve Buscemi during the film. This leads her to take a trip to Minnesota and enter the frozen tundra with no help and a self-made map and directions.
Zellner (who co-wrote the script with his brother, Nathan, and has a small part as the police officer) opens the film with a look into the life of Kumiko and the circumstances that lead her to chase this wild fantasy. For the first act and a half, the film is more of an investigation into the world of Kumiko and the every day occurrences that force her to decide to pack up and chase the treasure.
Kikuchi breathes amazing life into the character that is at times frustratingly immature yet charmingly honest. But what strikes most about the film is how lighthearted it can be and it is reminiscent of the work of one of the film’s executive producers, Alexander Payne (Nebraska and Sideways). Payne is known for finding humor in the every day occurrences of life and Zellner is able to do just that with the interactions between Kumiko and the people of both Tokyo and Minnesota.
Interacting with the people of the second location is also akin to the source material that the film derives from (even if it is loose) in Fargo. Zellner is able to capture the feel of the open winter tundra much like the Coen Brothers did in the 1996 classic with the cast of frivolous characters joining Kumiko’s path along her way to Fargo, North Dakota.
Whether it is the bumbling police officer whose heart is in the right place (played by Zellner) or the old lady who saves Kumiko on the side of the road and passes along “this great book on Japan called Shogun,” the film is able to capture the feel for the area much like the Coens did when they made their famous film, but with the twist of having a main character who is searching for something that was never there and the fact that this is more based in reality than the Fargo universe was.
This ability to capture honesty and heart added to the sad and sometimes heartbreaking moments of the film (and expertly acted by Kikuchi) makes Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter a deep film filled with human moments mixed with self-created mythology that feels like a mix between the two mentioned directors before (Payne and the Coen Brothers), which makes it something quite special and surreal.
Aided by the performance by Kikuchi and the excellent work by Zellner (and his brother), Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter is a honest film steeped in fantasy, but one that knows where its heart lies even though it may be misplaced and confusing. It’s a film that has an extremely unlikely adventure, but it also feels like something personal and a battle that people fight daily — even this reviewer.