Loosely based on an urban legend linked to the 2001 death of Takako Konishi, Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter tells the melancholy tale of 29-year-old Kumiko, a solitary introvert working as an Office Lady in Tokyo with an unhealthy obsession for the 1996 Coen Brothers film, Fargo.
Due to her non-conformist lifestyle in relation to homogeneous Japanese society – unmarried, no job ambition, lives alone with her pet rabbit Bunzo – she is routinely humiliated and viewed as an outcast by her co-workers, boss, and even her own mother. At the end of every monotonous workday, she returns home to a pot of noodles, Bunzo and her severely degraded Fargo VHS to watch and re-watch the scene wherein Steve Buscemi’s character buries a briefcase of cash in the snow.
Believing Fargo to be a true story, Kumiko makes meticulous efforts to map out the location of the money. Finally tired of her empty life in Tokyo, she absconds with the company credit card and hops on a flight to Minneapolis in search of her treasure.
She is ill-equipped for the harsh winter that greets her upon landing and wanders the highways encountering various characters who attempt to help this misguided Japanese tourist on her way to Fargo. After showing the DVD (her VCR eventually chewed the tape) to a kindly policeman he tries to explain that it’s a fictional film, to no avail. Kumiko hitches a taxi to her destination and wades headlong into a snowy forest-scape of oblivion.
Upon reading the synopsis for this film (and never having heard the urban legend it’s based on) I have to admit the premise sounded quite original. And indeed it is. With very little dialog, we essentially follow an uncommunicative Japanese woman on a bizarre little journey. The pace is painstakingly slow and the tone meditative, even mundane. Despite Kumiko’s apparent insanity, most of the time there’s not much action on-screen. But this approach fits the overall mood, Kumiko is downtrodden yet determined to reach her mythical fortune.
The last three-quarters of the film are particularly impressive visually with beautifully shot barren stretches of snow, ice and impenetrable forests which perfectly capture the atmosphere of Fargo. As does Kumiko’s oversized red hoodie she wears in very scene, no doubt a tribute to William H. Macy’s ubiquitous orange puffer jacket in the film.
For those interested in the real life case of Takako Konishi, Paul Berczeller’s short documentary This Is A True Story is compulsory viewing.
A short interview with lead actress Rinko Kikuchi and the director(s), a behind the scenes featurette which details the great lengths they went to cast the perfect rabbit in the role of Bunzo and a few deleted/alternate scenes, one of which is entitled ‘a grim ending’.