Movie Review: Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter (2014)
You should never criticize a movie for what it isn’t. But here I go.
I thought “Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter” was about a Japanese girl who was obsessed with the Coen brothers’ movie “Fargo” for the movie itself, and that’s why she travels to Minnesota in the middle of winter: to immerse herself in that odd, Minnesota-nice, Scandinavian culture. Go Bears.
Instead it’s about a Japanese girl in the midst of a mental breakdown, who travels to Minnesota because she thinks she’ll find the ransom money Steve Buscemi’s “Fargo” character buries by the side of the road. It’s not quirky at all; it’s just a long, slow, sad slog. It’s a pointless quest. Emphasis on pointless.
Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi) is an “office lady” for a nondescript company in Tokyo, 29 now, and thus a bit old for the position. Her officemates gossip and chat about getting their eyelashes permed, while Kumiko stands off to the side, contemplating spitting in the boss’ tea. The bossman tells her to get his dry cleaning and she dumps it in the garbage. Old friends try to engage her and she stands stricken, then flees. She wants no engagement. What does she want? Money, apparently. The money from “Fargo.”
Why? Why does she think it’s even there? Who knows? It might have something to do with her mother, whom we never see, but who berates her daughter by phone about promotions and boyfriends. Kumiko obviously has severe mental issues that are never addressed. The opposite. She’s surrounded by enablers.
At one point, she attempts to steal an expensive atlas from the public library but is caught by a security guard who questions her in a private room. She keeps her head down, barely saying anything. Finally, she mumbles, “I only need page 95. It is my destiny.” What does he do? He tears out the page—a map of Minnesota—gives it to her and lets her go. Why not? Later, Kumiko’s boss tells her she has an increasingly poor disposition and brings out a possible replacement. Then what does he do? He gives her the company credit card. With which she books a flight to the Twin Cities.
There, she meets more enablers. An old widow rescues Kumiko from a snowstorm and takes her to her farm, where she gives her hot chocolate, a dog-eared copy of “Shogun,” and a room to sleep in. Kumiko bolts. A kindly cop (writer-director David Zellner) finds her roaming the small-town streets wearing a quilt for warmth, like she’s in a low-budget version of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” and takes her to the station. Eventually she confesses her quest to him—the one about finding the money from “Fargo.” What does he do? Does he take her to a hospital or psych ward? No. He takes her to a Chinese restaurant, hoping to get a translator; then he takes her to a second-hand store and buys her a winter coat and boots. This last is actually fairly sweet. He’s tying the boots on her feet when she leans down and kisses him. He pulls back: It’s not what he wanted. He’s got a wife and kids. So she bolts.
Bedtime for Bunzo
Zellner, who wrote the screenplay with his producer-brother Nathan, keeps the film moody, the pace slow. Way too slow. It’s a slow-paced movie about an uninteresting girl on a pointless quest.
I liked a few moments. When Kumiko lands in “the new world,” as it’s called, we get a surreal shot of airplanes being de-iced on a cold winter night at the Twin Cities airport. Several times in Tokyo, Zellner has Kumiko walk off frame, then holds the camera there until she walks back. These are usually life-altering moments: stealing from the library (but being led back by the security guard); picking up the boss’s dry cleaning (but returning to dump it into a nearby garbage can); entering a subway with Bunzo, her pet rabbit (but returning empty-handed and crying). Bunzo winds up sitting in a subway seat by himself, nose twitching. He’s her last tie to ... well, anything. It’s the most affecting, and effective, part of the movie.
Earlier she tried to abandon Bunzo in a park: “Bunzo, you are free! Go where you want to go!” she tells him, then grows annoyed when he simply stays there, nose twitching. Kumiko’s reaction to Bunzo is mine to her. I sat in my seat, thinking, “You are free! Go where you want to go!” Well, I guess she does, doesn’t she?
Does Kumiko ever find the nondescript spot by the side of the road where Buscemi’s character buried the ransom? She does. At the very end. And look! The window scraper is even there. And so is the ransom money! Then she walks off happily, smiling and swinging the briefcase. But she’s probably dead—frozen in a snowstorm—or so insane she’s living completely within her own mind.
And the point of it all? I have no idea. We never know enough about Kumiko to really care about her. As Kumiko has trouble grasping reality, we have trouble grasping Kumiko.
I’m not sure I agree with you a hundred percent on your movie work there, David.