Directed by the Zellner brothers and produced by Alexander Payne, this original and slightly off the wall production follows the titular heroine, Kumiko, played by Oscar nominer Rinko Kikuchi.
Kumiko is a depressed 27 year old living in Tokyo, Japan who is not happy with her life lot in life. A loner by necessity, who hates her work, is intimidated by her peers, her boss and her overpowering mother who we only hear by way of phone conversations. Kumiko is in need of a release and a salvation, her outlook is changed by the appearance of a videotape of an American independent film that she takes to be real.
The film is the Coen brothers famous film Fargo and Kumiko believes that the money buried at the film's end by Steve Buscemi's character is real and she can find it. This semblance of not knowing what is fact and fiction is indicative of other Japanese films where mythology is lauded and equally feared as depicted in the Ringu films.
After finally quitting her employment, Kumiko heads for Minnesota to set out on her treasure hunt where she encounters people who are aware of Fargo and the cult that has built up around the film. One policeman is especially helpful to Kumiko in spite of the language barrier, and yet Kumiko's hunt inevitably will encounter a dead end.
The production credit of Payne and his writing partner Jim Taylor, is important to his oeuvre of travelling films or pictures where lead characters go on an actual journey both physically and metaphorically. Think of Jack Nicholson's character in About Schmidt where he goes cross country or Bruce Dern in Nebraska more recently.
Kumiko, though, shares more with Dern's character in that he cannot seem to be able to distinguish reality from fantasy. Dern believed that he won the lottery and travels to get his supposed winnings. On that journey his son Will Forte accompanies him as a mere moral support rather than truth sayer. Kumiko has no companion unless you count the helpful policeman, yet this is indicative of societal changes and filmic responses to the handling of mental fragility. Hark back to Harvey starring James Stewart or even Donnie Darko where Jake Gyllenhaal's eponymous character shared with Stewart the belief that a seven foot rabbit told him what to do.
Whilst Donnie Darko was a political swipe at the mistreatment of adolescent mental issues and Harvey asked maybe the crazy one is the smartest person, what those characters had in abundance in the eye of the audience was empathy. Kumiko whilst wide eyed, and perhaps if American could be termed adorkable, here she is what she is - an introvert without any semblance of normality in her loneliness.
While Kikuchi does valiant work with a part that requires her to be in every scene of the film without vanity. The hope for a positive outcome does not come to fruition and instead becomes a vain construct of happiness inside a deluded mind where the journey is not as rewarding for us as it is for our heroine. This is a shame as the Zellner's show a real proficiency to their work in terms of shot composition with artistic flair and striking the right tone without judging Kumiko completely.
Kumiko the Treasure Hunter is out on Friday 20th February from Soda Pictures.