Like Little Red Riding Hood stepping bravely, or foolishly, into the woods, the downcast heroine of the dreamy
Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter
wears a bright red coat - and later a makeshift poncho, made from a motel room bedspread - as she wanders across a strange new land.
That would be subzero Minnesota, covered in snow and mystery, a place this Tokyo office worker has come to on a singular mission. Back in Japan, she found an old VHS tape, its images scratchy and wavering, half-erased, the sound full of static and whir. But it professes to be a true story, and it is called Fargo. Yes, the Coen Brothers' bloodstained North Country noir.
As she plays and replays the scene where a desperate Steve Buscemi buries a case full of money in the drifts along a roadside fence, she becomes obsessed with finding this spot and claiming the bounty as her own. She hand-stitches a beautiful map, borrows her boss' company credit card, and is on her way.
Written by Austin-based siblings David and Nathan Zellner, and directed by David - who pops up in the role of a well-meaning Minnesota sheriff - Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter is a quest movie full of ache and whimsy. (It is inspired by the story of a real-life Japanese "office lady," Takako Konishi, who traveled to Minnesota and North Dakota on a similarly Fargo-inspired search in 2001. Or so the legends have it.)
Kumiko's coworkers are chirpy, neat as pins. She is not. Her only real friend is a pet rabbit, Bunzo. (I'm not going to say what happens when Kumiko decides to leave Tokyo for Minneapolis-St. Paul, but that shot of the little brown bunny, oh!)
Rinko Kikuchi, who starred in the Japanese segment of Alejandro González Iñárritu's Babel, as well as Pacific Rim and 47 Ronin, plays Kumiko with a sad-eyed, determined mien. She waddles ungracefully, leaning into the wind. The character is painfully alone. When Kumiko is picked up on the highway by a kindly widow (Shirley Venard), who offers her hot chocolate and a place to stay, the old woman tsks and scoffs. "Solitude - just fancy loneliness," she says.
If Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter takes its time, it's time worth taking. The cinematography is lovely: great swirls of midnight snow, frosted trees in glinting sun, the bustling modernity of Tokyo, a big library, subway stations exquisite in their orderliness.
And does Kumiko find that spot in Fargo - the movie, and the place she insists is real? Discover for yourself. And bring along a little embroidered map, if you can.
Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter *** 1/2 (Out of four stars)
Directed by David Zellner. With
Rinko Kikuchi, Nobuyuki Katsube, Shirley Venard, David Zellner.
In Japanese with subtitles, and
in English. Distributed by Amplify.
Running time: 1 hour, 45 mins.
Parent's guide: No MPAA rating (adult themes).
Playing at: Ritz Bourse.EndText