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SXSW 2014: ‘Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter’ is a lonely road trip about expectations and stories

SXSW 2014: ‘Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter’ is a lonely road trip about expectations and stories


Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter
Written by David Zellner and Nathan Zellner
Directed by David Zellner
USA, 2014

Stories mean everything to people. It’s a means of connecting to each other as well as ourselves. From social dications to fantastical narratives, stories permeate society and can be crushing, liberating, or isolating. Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter is an odd, folksy fable about the chimerical Kumiko and the ontology of stories.

Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi) is a recluse who cares only about her bunny Bunzo and the film Fargo. As she works as an office lady and steers clear of her coworkers, her obsession over Fargo grows. She becomes convinced that the briefcase of cash buried by a character is, in fact, real. She escapes the claustrophobic life in Japan, and travels to search for the briefcase in the Minnesota wilderness.

The cinematography is spectacular, perfectly polarizing Japan’s crampedness and Minnesota’s dusty waves of snow, and Kikuchi plays Kumiko with subtlety. Kumiko, on her quixotic quest, was unsatisfied by the story of her life in Japan. Boxed by misogynistic social norms and burdened by her mother’s own expectations, Kumiko decides to spin her own call to adventure She sets out, romanticizing the idea of finding treasure, meaning, and accomplishing something important. On her journey, characters cross her path but just as one might develop into something interesting, the film moves on, playing with audience’s expectations of how a story should be told.

Stories can be things that we tell one another, but it can also be something we tell ourselves–fool ourselves into believing. With a blend of humor and melancholy, the Zellner Brothers craft a fairy tale of a film. Whether the film is fanciful optimism or hokum is completely up to the way audiences see stories.