The Zellner brothers’ latest feature owes a considerable debt to the Coen brothers’ Fargo. That film primarily serves as narrative impetus; discovered (somewhat improbably) as a waterlogged VHS relic, it stirs the fantasist impulses of Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi) and sends her on a journey in search of ‘hidden treasure’ – the cash-laden suitcase buried by Steve Buscemi in the film – allowing her to indulge her increasingly dangerous anti-social tendencies.
This portrait of resolute solitude (or “fancy loneliness”) also draws heavily from Fargo’s off-kilter dark comedy and aesthetic. Kumiko’s crimson-clad form is sketched as a thumbsmudge of red crayon against an anonymous expanse of white – like Buscemi’s lonely scraper shoved into snow. Dispassionate, deific cinematography cultivates a fatalist sense of inevitability; regularly the static camera calmly waits for Kumiko to re-enter the frame, aloofly confident she’ll continue her descent.
There’s beauty in Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter, but it’s primarily photographic – crisply-shot landscapes, precise use of colour – rather than cinematic. By which I mean the film seeks to represent Kumiko’s disconnection from reality rather than understand it. Director David Zellner appears as a kindly detective who sympathises, rather than empathises, with Kumiko. His film’s approach is much the same: beautiful but overly opaque.