She’s not exactly “the woman with no name,” but she might as well be. By draping Rinko Kikuchi in a Spaghetti Western pancho (a Minnesota blanket) and shooting her character off to a distant land (Fargo), David Zellner combines the individuality of Sergio Leone’s Clint Eastwood trilogy and the isolation of Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Avventura in Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter. The film screened last Saturday at the Fargo Film Festival, and it was a perfect match given the character’s hopes and fears.
Kumiko spends her Tokyo days adhering to the demands of numerous Nagzillas, and her social game is almost non-existent. Rather than slapping her co-workers on the back and partaking in happy hour shenanigans, she finds comfort not in music or high definition BluRays, but a grainy VHS tape: Fargo. After discovering the artifact buried near the local waters, Kumiko believes the story of buried treasure to be real and that her destiny is to reach the North Dakota city (snicker). She won’t stop, because she can’t stop. Through a blustery dream sequence, Kumiko leaves Japan behind and arrives at Minneapolis–Saint Paul International Airport. As “Minnesota Nice” pervades her life, the treasure hunter discovers that one’s sense of happiness must be achieved through commitment and perseverance — not the opinions of others — even if you fall flat on your face somewhere outside Fargo.
Although Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter stays clear of red snow and violence, director Zellner offers the same type of unassuming and somewhat idiotic characters from the Coen brothers film. For example, two independent tour guides jump at the chance to show Kumiko around and make a little dough, but even a Japanese woman chasing fictional money exudes more intellect. Incidentally, a middle-aged policeman (David Zellner) offers assistance, but he’s not smart enough to differentiate Kumiko’s nationality from the folks at the local Chinese restaurant. Despite the typical Fargo cliches, the characters’ personal warmth contrasts the life Kumiko left behind and inspires her to move forward. She may ultimately succumb to Mother Nature, but not because she had nowhere else to go.
Kikuchi brings innocence to the role of Kumiko, and a quiet ferocity. She roams through the Minnesota snow almost like a native deer — born to survive and aware of surrounding threats. Matching the cautious demeanor of the locals, her character wears a broken heart on her sleeve but refuses to back down from opposition. When Kikuchi cries out “It’s not fake,” the words reflect someone unafraid to risk it all, yet her face conveys someone truly lost. With such a soft exterior, Kikuchi manages to convey a hardened soul — one who will ride or die until the end.
Heart-warming and often hilarious, Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter reminds that individuality may take one a long way given the right conditions. Chase your treasures with confidence and be prepared.