Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter

Directed by David Zellner
Starring Rinko Kikuchi

by Joanna Orland

When the film Kumiko the Treasure Hunter said it was based on a true story, I thought it was simply a nod to Fargo.  It turns out that it IS based on a true story… and what a story it is…

Rinko Kikuchi plays title character Kumiko in this film that is essentially about loneliness.  Kumiko is a lonely Japanese woman, unmarried and childless at age 29.  She gets flack from her boss and from her mother, she has no real friends to turn to, and has a social anxiety so crippling that it would definitely require professional help if anyone cared enough about her to point her in that direction.

Dissatisfied and terrified of her own life, Kumiko blurs the lines of fiction and reality, becoming convinced that she will find the buried treasure from the film Fargo.  The treasure in question is the suitcase full of money that Steve Buscemi’s character buries in the snow by a fence in the town of Brainerd, Minnesota near Fargo, North Dakota.

Rinko Kikuchi is an amazing actress, captivating without need of speaking a word. She emanates anxiety, loneliness and isolation with subtlety and ease.  Kumiko is not merely an introspective character, she is also an eccentric.  Her behaviour is fascinating even with minimal dialogue, some of which in Japanese.  She is a woman who seeks a meaning in life, feeling a tighter grip on fiction than reality.

The Achilles heel of this film is the lack of backstory for central character Kumiko.   Kikuchi gives a fascinating performance as this desperate, eccentric and lonely woman, but why is she so?  The recurring message is that Kumiko is unmarried and childless whereas most Japanese women by age 25 are married, and with children by age 29.  Because Kumiko is neither of these things, SPOILER ALERT: does she deserve to die alone on the set of a Coen Brothers film?  Further exploration of Kumiko’s foundations are needed for full empathy from the audience, notably the over 25 unmarried / over 29 childless factions.

In spite of the anti-feminist overtones and lack of backstory, Kumiko the Treasure Hunter is a gripping watch, greatly thanks to a standout performance by Rinko Kikuchi.

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