Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter

Poster for Kumiko the Treasure Hunter

I remember seeing a news story at some point after the Coen Bros. Fargo came out about a Japanese woman who was searching for the money that Steve Buscemi buried in the snow in that movie who had been found frozen to death either in North Dakota or Minnesota. What I hadn’t heard in the meantime is that the explanation for what she was doing when she froze to death was wrong. Actually, I’ve never heard what she was doing or how the legend arose, but in any event this film treats the legend as if it were true. It tells us the story of Kumiko, who is a lost soul living in Tokyo who is obsessed with finding the treasure from the film Fargo.

Needless to say this is a pretty offbeat film; perhaps too offbeat for my tastes. I’ve tagged it as melodrama based on the definition I ran across somewhere that melodrama is about women trapped in a social role. Kumiko, who is 29, is shown to be constantly harassed by her mother and boss to find a husband and start a family, but Kumiko is really, really not interested. However, as much as she’s alienated by this social pressure, the film really doesn’t play like a traditional melodrama. It’s more like a fish-out-of-water comedy mixed with elements of psychological horror, although horror is too strong a word. The film’s perspective is too detached to really be horrific. We are watching Kumiko’s mental disintegration, but it’s so understated that it has very little emotional effect, at least on me.

Is it avant garde? The way that it mixes genres and tones feels very unconventional, and yet some of the humor is broad as a barn, especially the stuff about Minnesota Nice. It’s not an easy film to get your hands around. It’s playful, and yet also sort of monotone. It has moments of great visual beauty, but also a lot of fairly dismal offices and streets. The trailer was hypnotic and mysterious, but the film itself feels more numb and opaque, partly because Kumiko herself is so numb. It skirts uncomfortably close to being a comedy about somebody losing her mind.

Well, it’s a very strange thing. Did anyone else get a feeling of the 2001 stargate sequence in Kumiko’s nighttime wander through the snowy forest? Is Kumiko’s red hoodie supposed to make us thing of Little Red Riding Hood? I’d probably need to see it again to decide whether the movie works as a whole or not, but I don’t feel much urge to do so. It’s uncomfortably numb.

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