Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter (2014)

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter (2014)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.

3 stars

3 thoughts on “Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter (2014)

  1. There must be something in the air…I’m just finishing a review off for this too. Anyway – well summed up, Dave. I think the ‘sympathy rather than empathy’ point about Zellner’s character is a good one, as well as the sense that the writer/directors also acknowledge the mental health issues without really examining them: they exist for the character and for the purposes of a story, and that’s that. I’ve made a slightly similar point in my review, and I guess the tragedy is in seeing a number of characters miss that there is something wrong (a pre-occupied mother, a too-formal boss, well-meaning and friendly Americans who attribute Kumiko’s behaviour to shyness or the language barrier, etc). I liked it, though, particularly the contrast between settings…and thought Kikuchi was good.

    • Yeah, Kikuchi was great, but as you say, the film just keeps a bit too much distance from her character to be great. I think it’s not so much that people don’t realise that something is wrong that Kumiko shies away from allowing them to help her (I did find her mother veered too far to side of comical, by the by). Looking forward to your review!

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