The urban legend that's based on a movie that posed as a true story, Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter mixes melancholy with humour to great effect.
We've all seen Fargo and we all remember hearing the story about Takako Konishi, the Japanese woman who travelled to Minnesota to locate the briefcase of money Steve Buscemi buried in the snow. No one could be that stupid, right? You're right. Already the subject of documentary This Is A True Story, Takako's quest was greatly exaggerated. Heartbroken over a recent breakup with a married American businessman, the travel agent had returned to the region the former lovers once holidayed. The night before she died she posted a suicide note to her parents, and made a lengthy phone call to her ex. Her body was found frozen the next day.
For Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter, director David Zellner, together with writer brother Nathan, are interested only in the myth and out of that have crafted a wonderful film.
Troubled Kumiko (Kikuchi - Babel, Pacific Rim) is a Tokyo office lady, a gofer for her lazy boss who can't understand why the unhappy twenty-nine-year-old isn't married. The shy Kumiko retreats from society, interested only in seeking out the treasure Carl Showalter (Buscemi's Fargo character) buried in the Coen Brothers' 1996 comedy crime caper. Getting her hands on her boss' company credit card, Kumiko makes for Minnesota where she embarks on a road trip to Fargo...
Director David Zellner (who pops up in a small role as the kindly police officer who offers to help Kumiko by first stressing that the film is fiction, and then by buying the ill-prepared traveller warm clothes), divides his film into two. The Tokyo-set first half fleshes out Kumiko, establishing a fractured character aloof from society and uncomfortable in her own skin. By the time she gets on the plane, Zellner has sold the idea that this woman would swallow such a story. Depressing and claustrophobic, the film changes gears once it takes out of Kumiko's dank apartment into the clean, white expanse of the Minnesota landscape.
Similar in some respects to Nebraska (Alexander Payne is an executive producer here), Zellner pulls of that rare feat of being gloomy and funny while exploring the notion that life would be so much easier if it were like the movies. He renders Kumiko weirdly touching, with heart-warming and pitiful moments co-existing. That she can't see that friendly characters she encounters and connects with on her trip (Zellner resisting the temptation for the Minnesota Nice accent) is the real treasure in life is both encouraging and depressing.
A pleasantly miserable watch, Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter is a real find.