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Sleeper of the Week: ‘Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter’

Sleeper of the Week: 'Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter'

Sleeper of the Week takes a film that only
few critics have seen and shines some light on it.

“Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter”
Dir: David Zellner
Criticwire Average: A-

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter” has a great hook for movie fans: woman believes the ironic “based on a true story” opening to “Fargo,” goes searching for the money buried by Steve Buscemi’s character. Rinko Kikuchi stars as the titular character, a lonely woman who uses a stolen company credit card to travel from Tokyo to Minnesota and find the loot, never mind that the local sheriff (director David Zellner) informs her that, of course, “Fargo” didn’t really happen.

It’s a whimsical premise, but director David Zellner and his brother/co-writer Nathan keep the film from being too cutesy by treating the central character’s depressive state of mind thoughtfully. The film has a hazier, more contemplative mood than the Coens’ film, aided by The Octopus Project’s dreamy score and Kikuchi’s terrific minimalist performance, both of which draw us into Kumiko’s fantasy without diminishing how it’s pushing her to ruin. It’s a film about the necessity of dreams and the sad reality of most of them.

More thoughts from the Criticwire Network:

Joe Bendel, Libertas Film Magazine

It is a quiet performance, but absolutely devastating in its power. She vividly projects the acute sensitivity and compulsive focus that make Kumiko more closely akin to outsider artists than routine nutters. David Zellner (the director and co-writer half of the Zellner filmmaking tandem) is also quite funny yet also rather touching, in an admirably understated way, as the sheriff’s deputy who tries to help Kumiko. Read more.

Eric Kohn, Indiewire

Despite a plot that naturally owes a debt to the Coen brothers, the influence of other directors stand out with greater prominence: “Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter” is closer in tone to Werner Herzog’s dreamlike approach to rendering the Midwest in poetic terms. The combination of an eternally crestfallen lead and the black comedy of her mission have already led some to compare the movie to the oeuvre of Alexander Payne, who’s listed as an executive producer along with writing partner Jim Taylor. But the ultimate sequence of events primarily reflect the filmmakers behind the camera, as they probe their character’s irregular subjectivity with an eloquent focus on her irrational commitment. Read more.

Rodrigo Perez, The Playlist

A strange and sad character portrait of a lonely dreamer on a quest, it is also like two films in one: the funny, but oppressive Japanese first half and the second, set in a wintry American wonderland that’s more whimsical for all its seeming atmospheric solemnity. The evocative ghostly score by the Octopus Project is another asset, their shimmering, textural sonic qualities brilliantly blurring the line between music and sound design. And it’s visually striking too…Read more.

More thoughts from the web:

Scott Foundas, Variety

Our desire that life should be more like it is in the movies beats at the heart of “Kumiko the Treasure Hunter,” a wonderfully strange and beguiling adventure story comprised of buried treasure, hand crafts, and a possibly unhealthy obsession with the Coen brothers. An ever-so-slight step closer to the mainstream by another sibling filmmaking team, indie veterans David and Nathan Zellner, made without compromising one iota of their fiercely original vision, this alternately spirited and sad adult fairy tale will surely baffle as many viewers as it enchants, but should ride appreciative reviews and a knockout central performance by Rinko Kikuchi to much fest and arthouse exposure. Read more.

David Jenkins, Little White Lies

Though it seems exactly like one of those movies which is far more fun to read about than it is to actually watch, credit must go to its makers, David and Nathan Zellner, for using this eccentric set-up as a way to discuss their own mystery: is Kumiko clinically insane to want to achieve this goal or is her odyssey any different from anyone seeking personal validation through some random achievement? And what is life if not a journey towards an ill-defined and probably non-existent goal? The reason why the film works so well is down to the immense empathy the Zellners extend to their characters. Read more.

Violet Lucca, Film Comment

Whether or not Kumiko is suffering from schizophrenia remains ambiguous, even as the symptoms of mental illness dramatically multiply after she arrives in “the New World” and starts heading for Fargo; her decision to use a stolen hotel comforter as a makeshift poncho, which grows ever filthier as she treks along the shoulder of I-94, is both practical and unsound. Yet she’s no less free as a homeless person in Minnesota than she was as an unmarried woman in Japan, which (along with her pre-Internet research methods) suggests that the film is in large part metaphorical. Meanwhile, Kikuchi’s superb, subtle performance grounds the film in reality.  Read more.

Scott Tobias, The Dissolve

The Zellners are as obsessed with “Fargo” in their own way as their heroine, but they’re smart enough to get some separation where it matters. “Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter” is “Fargo’s” slow, contemplative, quizzical counterpart, stripped of all but the most basic narrative elements, and focused entirely on one character’s peculiar destiny. It’s proof that reference can be a springboard to originality. Read more.

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