A cinematic curiosity from the Zellner Brothers—David directs, both Nathan and David write and act—Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter is based on an urban legend about Takako Konishi, who the media reported died in 2001 while searching for the treasure buried in 1996’s Fargo. (The truth behind Konishi’s death, a suicide, is far less quirky and infinitely sadder.) The Zellners run with this legend as their lonely, deluded protagonist, Kumiko (Academy Award nominee Rinko Kikuchi), leaves her dead-end job and badgering mother in Tokyo while setting out for the frigid wilds of Minnesota and North Dakota. Think Wild without the sex, drugs and self-discovery; actually, think more Into the Wild.
Kumiko is fueled by the grainy VHS vision of Steve Buscemi burying more money than she has ever seen; she even stitches a treasure map. What she discovers is less adventure and more quixotic journey. An unhelpful good Samaritan (Shirley Venard) offers to take her to the Mall of America; a kindhearted cop (director David) seeks a translator at a Chinese buffet.
Kumiko is a curious watch. Its synopsis sounds more quirkily humorous than eccentrically dramatic, and Kumiko can be a tough character with whom to empathize. Humor is present; it just takes unexpected effort to access. At times, I wasn’t sure what other audience members were laughing at; I am sure they thought the same of me.
The Octopus Project’s confounding score compounds the problem. The music occasionally seems to imply horror, the last genre one expects to unearth on Kumiko’s treasure hunt. Kumiko is not for the casual filmgoer, but Ciné regulars will feel rewarded by its idiosyncrasies.
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