Culture Crash: Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter

03/11/2015 6:52 AM |
Image courtesy of Amplify

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter
Directed by David Zellner
Opens March 18

“How to go Fargo?” asks a depressed Tokyo “office lady” who believes she can find a fictional briefcase of cash buried in the North Dakota snow. The title role of Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter is played by Academy Award nominee Rinko Kikuchi, blanking it up as another in a line of movieland foreigners fixated on some item of American culture (first shown here in a blurry VHS tape of Fargo). But unlike, say, a Jarmusch hipster tourist, Kumiko’s a bit more explicitly delusional, and as she hops from home—harried at work by old-school boss and on the phone by her marriage-minded mom—to Minneapolis, hers is a journey into a wilderness of her mind as much as the punishing Great Plains winter.

As directed by David Zellner, who co-wrote the story with brother Nathan, the globe-spanning but pocket-sized film has a snappy visual design, as the cloaked Kumiko, after fleeing Tokyo, picks her way through lustrous landscapes (and snowscapes). First she wears a red cloak, and then, once her idée fixe has outrun the resources of the company credit card, a mottled motel blanket turned dreamcoat. But the Zellners, who partly bring it upon themselves by embedding the finely tuned likes of Fargo in their own creation, strand Kumiko in more than the story sense. Even accounting for an addled outsider’s point of view, her encounters (with airport hucksters, with a grimacing deaf cabbie) are scripted and shot for cheap cross-cultural comedy rather than character nuance, with halting delivery offering a veneer of folksy authenticity, and an electronic blizzard of a score.

Director Zellner plays a cop, who first rolls up with apologies for the siren and takes pity on Kumiko; he tries to teach her the difference between fiction and real life and the problem of their “cultural barrier,” but can’t distinguish between Japanese and Chinese (cue buffet restaurant slog). While David and Nathan Zellner have acquired (or cultivated) a certain brand with Kid-Thing and its comedy with a primitive streak and hyperlucid visuals, the mysteries of Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter prove to be as illusory as the real-world existence of Fargo’s filthy lucre.