Director: David Zellner
Starring: Rinko Kikuchi, Nobuyuki Katsube, Shirley Venard, David Zellner, Nathan Zellner, Kanako Higashi
Written by: David Zellner and Nathan Zellner
Running Time: 105 mins
Release date: 20th February 2015
Imagine, if you will, that after finding a hidden video tape of the Coen Brothers 1996 classic, Fargo, believing that it’s a treasure map to the stash cash that is buried in the snow near the end of the film. That’s the central story to Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter, an independent drama that relies heavily on that main threadline but seems to struggle to bring it alive.
Kumiko is a lonely, quiet young Japanese woman working in a dead-end job for an equally bored boss and constantly hassled by her mother who wants her to marry. Kumiko discovers a video tape of Fargo hidden in a cave and soon finds herself obsessing about finding the money buried in the film. Stealing the company credit card, she heads off to Minnesota to find the cash, along the way meeting a variety of different characters.
Written and directed by The Zellner Brothers, David and Nathan, who also star, and produced by Sideways director, Alexander Payne, this is a slow moving, often silent film that plays out it’s awkward lead character’s journey from bored, uninspired officer worker who lives in her tiny flat with her noodle loving rabbit, to traveling to find her personal pot of gold. The cinematography is breath-taking, capturing the various backdrops beautifully, especially when it hits snowy Minnesota.
The film’s central story is intriguing to say the least. Watching the film on a flickering, water-damaged VHS copy, Kumiko becomes obsessed with the stash, detailing every inch of the film, measuring the fences where the money is buried and even embroidering her own treasure map. Her lonely existence is played out with her lifeless meetings between her boss, a man who sits behind a desk playing with a ball and her evenings eating noodles from a pot that she shares with her rabbit.
Then the film moves to America, where you hope that life will pick up the pace a little. It doesn’t. Instead, Kumiko ambles along, battling the elements as she heads for her destination, meeting a kindly old woman and cop along the way. It’s all very gentle and sweet and sometimes quirky but not that interesting. Which is a pity when you consider the idea is strangely offbeat.
Rinko Kikuchi, probably best known here for Pacific Rim and Norwegian Wood, does a terrific job with Kumiko, although the script doesn’t allow her to develop any further than a lonely woman with a dream. Her performance is somewhat one-note, with many of the scenes played out in silences. It’s a hard job but she manages to rise above the difficulties of a character without much to go on.
Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter is one of those films that promises much but delivers very little. As lovely as it looks and as good Kikuchi is, there’s very little else to recommend it. It’s like the brothers Zellner had an amazing idea but didn’t know what to do with it.