SFF Review: Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter

What is it about?

A lonely, quiet office lady in Japan, Kumiko, finds an old VHS of Fargo and becomes convinced that the buried suitcase of money in the film is real. With a crudely drawn treasure map and limited preparation, she escapes her structured life in Tokyo and embarks on a foolhardy quest across the frozen tundra of Minnesota in search of her mythical fortune.

What is it like?

In a way, I imagine that majority of the human population can relate to our main character. Shy and introverted Kumiko lives in a small Tokyo apartment and holds down an unfulfilling job as an office lady and is constantly hounded by her mother whether she is dating someone, whether she has any prospects, and hounding her to come home and live with her parents until she finds a husband. Kumiko dreams of a different life, yearns for something more. So when she finds the wet, scratchy, old VHS of Fargo, she becomes obsessed with the prospect of finding its treasure, believing it will give her a greater life than the one she is currently enduring. Kumiko begins to exhibit bizarre behaviour due to her obsession, stealing an American atlas from a library and when given access to the company credit card, she promptly books a flight to Minnesota, but not before heartbreakingly leaving her rabbit, Bunzo, on a train to find a new carer.
This is an unusual film, an offbeat road trip with expressionless deadpan humour and a quirky, relatively silent, protagonist that is wonderfully performed by Rinko Kikuchi. Written by award-winning short filmmakers David and Nathan Zellner (with David helming directing duties) it is a striking, melancholy film despite its seemingly too-slow pacing of its 105 minute running time. It is a portrait of a lonely dreamer on a quest, a sad and strange character with qualities we can all relate to. Visually, the film is striking and hauntingly beautiful, particularly when in the deep winter season of Minnesota, thanks to DOP Sean Porter.
There is an almost fairytale, Red Riding Hood-esque quality to the film (Kumiko wears a bright red hoodie throughout the film and while on her quest for the hidden treasure) that, particularly in the end of the second half, becomes more akin to a nightmarish tale.

So, should you see it?

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter is a dreamy, funny film, with a dark undercurrent. Though it feels too slow a film, it is melancholy yet inspiring, funny and sometimes ambiguous. Playing at this years Sydney Film Festival Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter is worth a watch.


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