Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter (2014)
I must admit Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter (2014) I was sold by the first few seconds of the trailer. The very concept of the film was something I had to investigate. Appealing to the power that film can over your reality…if you let it. Something you usually grow out of when you can reality apart from fiction and fantasy. That’s not the case for loner Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi) who by day works in an office, keeps to herself and hates her boss for taking an interest in her life. Basically a social outcast who has no real connections in life, wanting to be by herself, her own sense of right and wrong, surviving only enough in reality to get by.
Her only real connection to anything from the outside world is a little known cult film in Japan from America, – Fargo (1996). You can’t quite tell from the scratched up video copy she has discovered, that she has been watching to death for details. Taking the prologue to heart, something that even people today believe the spin-off‘s based on events, the people and incidents have been changed out of respect. Or something like that. This prologue is her way into another world that only she has knowledge off. Latching onto one sequence where Steve Buscemi‘s character (Carl Showalter) is burying a briefcase of money in the snow. A scene that is only a small part of a much bigger film that has more going on.
Watching and re-watching that scene in meticulous detail, its more pathological than methodical at times, as the images take on new meaning in her life that’s consumed. For my own work I use visual research from the films I work with, wanting to get details, to get it right. Kumiko takes this to another level. The dedication is too much, too much to bear at times in this black comedy that sees her leave her job, and her life in Japan for what is a risky and ultimately fruitless venture.
Visually its a splendid film that keeps you engaged, from the bright colour’s to the details of Tokyo’s surroundings. Before the otherworldly contrast of Minnesota where Kumiko embarks on her treasure hunt. I’m reminded of the formal quality of Wes Anderson’s work, always holding back, keeping everything boxed in the frame in terms of cinematography thanks to Sean Porter Along with The Octopus Project‘s soundtrack that creates an otherworldly quality to the film.
In terms of the film I’m reminded more of Strozek (1977) when a trio of German’s want to escape their own reality of a harsh life in Germany for small town America that starts to sour quickly for Der Bruno Stroszek himself (Bruno S.) he wants to return to what he knows and understand. The quest for a better life is not for him. For Kumiko its something that she can’t give up on it. Whoever she meets, whatever she learns she has this tunnel vision of reaching Fargo at all costs. Encountering people who offer hospitality and warmth towards her. It all seems to fall on death ears. Yet this doesn’t seem to alienate them, they see a lonely tourist wanting to get somewhere, It’s only when she meets a police officer (David Zellner) that she has a glimmer of reality shone her way.
Now to call this a classic as I have read is premature, it’s definitely got the ability to be a cult film. The idea behind it is so niche, does knowledge of the previous film add to your enjoyment, what about the opposite, a lack of knowledge may take-away so much too. What you have to do is put yourself in Kumiko’s position, an outsider finding a purpose, something that draws her out of herself. Or further inward as she’s driven to this fictional goal, a location that might not even be where the film leads her to believe. It’s definitely an idea explored, there is more room for growth, how more people could follow this cult film and its power over the individual or group. Nonetheless its a beautifully shot film that looks with tenderness at an outsider getting transported to a far off world to follow her dreams, and that if anything is what cinema is about.