Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter Review
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When the Coen Brothers released their darkly comic thriller Fargo in 1996, audiences and critics alike were taken by it. But none of them had quite the same reaction as the young Japanese woman in the Zellner brothers’ Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter.

This quietly quirky indie drama stars Rinko Kikuchi as the title character, a bored Tokyo Office Lady who doesn’t fit in with her giggling, gossiping co-workers. And though she tells her mother that she’s about to get a promotion, her boss believes that her lack of marriage prospects is somehow a detriment to her career.

When Kumiko finds an old VHS copy of Fargo, she mistakes it for a documentary. And as her frustrations with her disapproving boss and her meddling mother grow, so does her obsession with the film’s hidden riches—until she finally hops on a plane, eager to begin her quest through the snow-covered landscapes in search of buried treasure.

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter is an odd and striking film, following a lonely outsider on the journey of a lifetime. Kikuchi, who managed to give a captivating performance in Rian Johnson’s The Brother’s Bloom without saying more than a few words, once again does the same here. Kumiko isn’t a talkative young woman. In Tokyo, she quietly goes about her life, avoiding conversations if at all possible. In the States, she faces all kinds of eccentric, outgoing characters, yet she does so without saying much of anything—other than telling people that she wants to go to Fargo. And while that kind of character could easily become dull, Kikuchi manages to exude Kumiko’s desperation, determination, and even personality—often showing her story instead of telling it.

Admittedly, Kumiko isn’t a fast-paced movie. It’s strange and hazy and deliberately paced—and both the character’s silence and the filmmakers’ storytelling choices tend to make the film rather perplexing. Yet it’s also hauntingly beautiful. From the hustle and bustle of Tokyo to the quiet, frigid darkness of the northern states, the settings are often striking in their own way. And even Kumiko herself is artistically styled, whether she’s navigating the city streets in her uncharacteristically vibrant red hoodie or shuffling through the frozen wilderness wearing a colorful motel comforter as a poncho.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Kumiko has plenty of strange misadventures during her adventure. Along the way, she encounters all kinds of well-meaning characters (like director David Zellner’s Deputy Caldwell), who help to break up the sometimes moody monotony of her mission.

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter is often more about the experience than the story. It may not be a thrilling adventure, but it’s an arresting one—thanks to the striking cinematography, the quirky comedy, and one quietly talented star.

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