Film Review: Kumiko the Treasure Hunter

Article by Alison Ng

“This is a true story.”

With a fuzzy and some-what decipherable statement pasted on the screen, the audience is introduced to “Kumiko the Treasure Hunter” (directed by David Zellner), the story of Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi), a twenty-nine year old woman who barely tolerates the societal pressures that surround her. During the day, she works a dead-end office job under the rule of a terrible boss; when she isn’t at work, she is pestered by her overbearing mother. The only solace she has is the movie “Fargo,” and the movie scene that shows a man burying a suitcase full of cash. With no other emotional attachments, Kumiko fixates her energy on this suitcase and sets out to find it.

Thus begins Kumiko’s journey of leaving her dreadful life in Tokyo behind in order to find her treasure. She funds her trip to Minnesota with the use of her boss’s company card, determined to reach the town of Fargo (which is actually in North Dakota). Throughout her passage, she meets people who try to help her, but who also find the language barrier daunting (Kumiko speaks Japanese while the good Samaritans speak English).

“This is a true story” is the statement that begins “Fargo” and “Kumiko the Treasure Hunter.” What you don’t realize in the beginning of “Kumiko the Treasure Hunter” is that the sentence also foreshadows the construction of weaving what is ‘real’ and what isn’t ‘real’ together. The film fixates on fragile emotions and mental states, without ever explicitly putting information out there. Kikuchi’s performance – her eye movements, facial expressions, and body language, tells the audience what they need to know about the character; the audience is left to make their own conclusions.

In addition, the film pays attention to societal pressures, expectations, and stereotypes. In Tokyo, Kumiko’s boss asks about her age, marital status, and long-term goals; her mother expects her to have a boyfriend every time she calls. While Kumiko defies these standards as a single-woman living on her own, her actions show that she is still burdened by them. To continue, in America, the people that extend their care mean well, but do so in a borderline-you-are-foreign way. For example, one character (who is a cop) goes to a Chinese restaurant in order to ask the Chinese owner if she can translate Kumiko’s words. While Kumiko and the restaurant owner insist they do not speak the same language, the cop is still incredulous. By calling out these situations, the film brings awareness to how people in our modern society still act.

With artful scenes and eccentric characters “Kumiko the Treasure Hunter” is a powerful film. I would say more, but I don’t think my words could do the film justice.

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