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KUMIKO, THE TREASURE HUNTER

SYNOPSIS: When 29 year old withdrawn and socially inept Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi) finds a battered old VHS copy of the 1996 film, Fargo, she comes to believe the case full of cash hidden in the snow is real buried treasure and sets out from Tokyo to the freezing Fargo countryside determined to find it.

Review by Louise Keller:
It is precisely at the time when Kumiko sets out on her journey to Minneapolis that David Zellner's unique and charming film spits out a beguiling trail of black humour, faintly echoing the quirky tone of the film that plays a pivotal role in the exposition: Joel and Ethan Coen's 1996 film Fargo. It is a turning point, after the script penned by the scriptwriting team of David and Nathan Zellner has firmly established the bleak, despondent Tokyo reality of the film's protagonist, Kumiko. The two disparate halves of this fable are wonderfully juxtaposed, while Rinko Kikuchi delivers an outstanding and nuanced central performance where the main action is internal. The film is engaging, tragic, uplifting, moving and wryly funny. I loved it!

There's a beach, the discovery of a buried videotape, a pet rabbit called Bunzo that is fed noodles from chopsticks and a withdrawn girl called Kumiko (Kikuchi), who works as an 'Office Lady' in a Tokyo company. We are quick to notice she is an outcast: friendless with no relationships, not even with her mother. Our of work hours, she becomes a familiar figure, wearing the same Red-Riding hood-esque red jacket. Piecing together snippets of the grainy, damaged videotape movie of Fargo, she becomes obsessed about the 'treasure' she believes she has found in what she believes is a true story.

I laughed when she draws on the paused television screen as she meticulously measures the precise spot where Fargo actor Steve Buscemi buries the briefcase crammed with dollar notes. I love the charm of the rough embroidery she sews, with the treasure location marked with a red X. This first section is a little slow but stick with it - the payoff is worth it. The opportunity to pursue her dream comes unexpectedly - those who notice Alexander Payne's name among the executive producers, will be reminded of Nebraska.

From the time Kumiko sets out on her journey to Minneapolis, each person she meets is a steppingstone to her destination - and her dream. It's almost as though she has walked from her own reality into that of Fargo, the movie. There is the religious zealot tourist-guide (Nathan Zellner is hilarious as Robert), who admits to having being 'lost' but has now seen the light, a bus driver with carpal tunnel syndrome, a kindly elderly widow (Shirley Venard, wonderful) who believes that solitude is a fancy name for loneliness, a deaf taxi driver who communicates with a writing pad, and a kind-hearted sheriff (David Zellner plays it with just the right tone), who tells the freezing, distressed Kumiko that he 'is here to help'.

The humour is subtle and black and our journey is an emotional one. Watch for Kumiko wearing the bedcover from the motel room bed to keep her warm, hole ripped to allow her head through the middle. It's priceless. Even more priceless is the sleight of hand with which Zellner introduces the poetic, as he finishes his tale. The exquisite imagery of snow-covered tree branches and the contrast of Kumiko's black hair, red hood and stunning winter wonderland backdrop take us into a breathtaking reality. It's wonderful.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
It's great to have a dream, especially when you have so little else. Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi) lives in a tiny flat in Tokyo, works for a lousy boss and is friendless. She doesn't even get on with her mother, who maintains a relationship via telephone, badgering her to either marry or come home. The taciturn Kumiko does neither: she wants to find the buried treasure that bleeding man stashed away in Fargo's frozen farawayland. Her determination sees her set forth, unprepared for the strange people she'd meet in a strange country where she hardly speaks the language.

Kumiko's character is like the tortoise, slow, plodding determined. As for the rabbit, she owns one, called Bunzo, who is her only companion. He is an important character, although we don't know it until ... well, no spoilers here.

Kumiko's progress is slow; she is slow to respond to questions, even from her mother, slow to act, slow to react ... and the filmmakers revel in her almost autistic persona, indulging it, embellishing it .... and annoying us in the process.

Even her adventures on the road are fraught with silences and stoppages, and she scuttles any help strangers may show her on her relentless pursuit of Fargo's treasure laden fields. There is the widow (Shirley Venard) living in a remote ramshackle house who picks her up on an icy road and takes her home for a meal ... and the caring sheriff (David Zellner himself) who goes out of his way to protect and help her on her way - neither treated well.

While there are some splendid cinematic moments, great images and a persuasive, pushy score by The Octopus Project, the film meanders without dynamics for too many long stretches. The interesting thing for me is the film's intermittent excursion from drama into bleak comedy as Kumiko fumbles through her meagre life in a detached but determined pursuit of her dream. The resolution at the end of her quest tests us with its romantic, almost fairytale elements, and for all the contrivance that goes on before, it serves a cinematic purpose.

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 1
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 1

KUMIKO, THE TREASURE HUNTER (PG)
(US, 2014)

CAST: Rinko Kikuchi, Nobuyuki Katsube, Kanako Higashi, Shirley Venard, David Zellner, Nathan Zellner, Brad Pather

VOICES: Yumiko Hioki

PRODUCER: Andrew Banks, Jim Burke, Cameron Lamb, Chris Ohlson, Nathan Zellner

DIRECTOR: David Zellner

SCRIPT: David Zellner, Nathan Zellner

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Sean Porter

EDITOR: Melba Jodorowsky

MUSIC: The Octopus Project

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Chad Keith, Kikuo Ohta

RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Palace

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 30, 2015







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