Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter Review - A Solid Gold Nugget

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Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter, from Lila 9th Productions and Ad Hominem Productions, brings to the screen an unusual mix of the contemporary, evolved life in modern Japan coupled with the restrictions of century held societal mores and customs.

Directed by David Zellner, Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter stars Rinko Kikuchi, as the lead, and David Zellner as the kind hearted American police officer, both of which have been nominated for Independent Spirit Awards. Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter was written by David and Nathan Zellner.

We meet Kumiko, as  the film opens, walking alone along the rocky black coastline, with an embroidered map in her hands, she moves along the coastline looking for the next stop on her scavenger hunt finding the cave designated she enters and finds an old VHS tape.

Making it back to her extremely cluttered micro unit apartment, with her only friend Bonzo the bunny, a cute and cuddly companion keeps her company.

Kumiko is 29. Unfortunately in Japan, she is nearly at old maid status. In the matriarchal order in Japan, the mother has told her, outside of pregnancy (even without a husband) she is destined when the next birthday rolls around to be forever banished to single status and bring shame on the family. The sentencing is already pronounced as mother and daughter tug through years of social mores.

The VHS tape, of special interest, shows the final scenes in the 1996 film Fargo. With a satchel of buried treasure Kumiko envisions her life would be forever changed. She would call the shots, no more working in the mundane office girl role, of which she cannot stand, although a coveted position, our Kumiko is desperately lonely and what once held fulfillment, and even prestige, no longer does.

Embroidering a treasure map to find the satchel in Fargo, she watches the film repeatedly. Seduced by the suspension of reality she is sure the treasure exists and all is a worthy risk to find it.

The images are as close and innately, the common sense of which she clearly at one time possessed, shine through as she begins the suicidal ritual of giving away her prized possession. Bonzo, the first and only concern for her is set free and refuses to leave so she determined to free him finds a way.

Her determination to free herself from the restrictions of culture overwhelm her and when she is given  the company credit card for purchases fate moves her to her destiny.

Soon she is in North Dakota; a fish out of water would not even come close as our treasure hunter decides to find the mystery satchel. Dressed for balmy Japan she begins her trek, undeterred by sub-freezing temperatures, language difficulties, encounters of the American kind and the kindness of strangers who fortunately for Kumiko are.

Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter is unique in that our Rinko Kikuchi is truly able to carry the film with extremely limited dialogue especially in the final half of the film as  Kumiko is in North Dakota with only the word Fargo to guide her.

We immediately sympathize with Kumiko as she is pulled by an unknown source to this intersection of fantasy and reality. The scenes with David Zellner, the North Dakota State Trooper are hopeful. The audience is rooting for Kumiko to find a new destiny, for this extremely dangerous situation to smooth out, for change. We want her to find the treasure.

The final scenes are truly subject to interpretation. As I have seen this type of portrayal, mine may not be everyone’s.

Hope springs eternal; I suppose would be the final phrase one would add to this interesting mix of cultural driven determination. And of course, the universally theme of freedom from restraint as the boundaries of life in a micro unit and life are not able to hold Kumiko or any one I suppose.

In Japanese with English subtitles Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter is a solid gold nugget.

Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter opens everywhere February 27, 2015.

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