Kumiko

I guess the reason it took me so long to see Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter (2014) was the fantasy genre implied by the title and poster. I figured it was animation. As a film reviewer back in the 90s I had to sit through preview screenings of Princess Mononoke and other Japanese animation films, and that’s one genre I’ve had my fill of.

Kumiko is so much better! It’s about a Japanese woman obsessed with the film Fargo. Having a mental breakdown, she steals her boss’ credit card and flies to the U.S. to find the suitcase of cash Steve Buscemi buried by the side of a highway in northern Minnesota in the Coen brothers’ film. Kumiko (my Spellcheck thinks her name is Cumin!) is completely blurring fiction and reality, thinking Fargo is a documentary.

Many reviewers saw it as a comment on the nature of cinematic reality, but I find it telling that co-writers David and Nathan Zellner start the story with Kumiko finding the VHS of Fargo on a beach in Japan. It’s not about a woman coming unhinged; it starts in a mythic hyper-reality, and only steps into our reality for sad interludes that get sadder as the film goes on. The more poetic and beautiful her journey gets, the harder you can see she is going to crash.

Director David Zellner and Rinko Kikuchi in

Director David Zellner and Rinko Kikuchi in “Kumiko.”

Inspiring in its simplicity, it’s moving partly because of the phase of Kumiko’s life the brothers place the story in. She’s being replaced at work by a younger woman, and her boss shames her for not being married. Once in Minnesota, she gets a kind offer of help from a small town mother whose grown up son, she says, never comes to visit. Finally a sympathetic cop tries talking some sense into Kumiko when he finds her on a blustery road in winter. He takes her to a thrift store for proper winter shoes and a coat, and she kisses him, mistaking his kindness for romance.

Is that what it was all about? Does spinsterhood cause madness? The fact that David Zellner both directed it and plays the cop makes me read it differently. Kumiko is the muse. The irrational creative inspiration that flies in from across the Pacific to your freezing cold town and interrupts your daily rounds.

But that’s over-thinking it. I loved every second of it, up to its finale, which just doesn’t live up to the promise, but I never begrudge a story-teller his or her ending: If they had me up to then, that’s good enough.

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: