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Monday, March 16, 2015

KUMIKO, THE TREASURE HUNTER: A Runaway Nerd Looking for Meaning

Let me say this first: Any time we get to see Rinki Kikuchi in a film it's a treat. Not only is her filmography diverse and so completely unexpected from the traditional Hollywood typecast of Asian actresses, but she delivers. Each and every time. Though that aside, KUMIKO, THE TREASURE HUNTER might be the most peculiar film she's done to date.

To say the movie is quirky would be an understatement. I mean, it's about a woman named Kumiko (Kikuchi) who becomes so obsessed with the buried suitcase filled with cash from the Coen brothers' film Fargo that she embarks on a journey to go find it. Oh, and she lives in Japan, so this is a rather far and rather determined trip. Okay, I'll admit that the premise is ridiculous. But that aside, the film actually touches on other issues within the realms of feminism and tradition that other more commonplace Hollywood films don't even go near. So there's that.

We already presume from the general plot that Kumiko may be a little...strange. Actually, she's just reclusive, socially awkward, desperate for a purpose outside of her mind-numbing job, and  the stigma of being a single woman "of a certain age" and friends and family who simply don't get her. She is looking for meaning. And she finds that when she assumes a role in a fictional movie, and gives it a new plot -- one in which she has a stronger, more heroic role than she does even in her actual life. Is that the definition of crazy? Not in this movie.

There's a deeper exploration of character in KUMIKO, THE TREASURE HUNTER that goes beyond the surface story. It's the idea of self-actualization by way of searching for a purpose in a place you least expect it: in this case, a fictional film. What drives a woman like Kumiko to this level of fantasy, to the point in which she actually leaves her native country in order to experience what it feels like to actually accomplish something -- even if no one else can understand it? Well, a dreamer, someone who is unfulfilled, who doesn't feel she has anything to lose. It doesn't really matter whether or not the money is real, it's Kumiko's restored ambition that adds heart to this otherwise odd film. And Kikuchi plays that up well as she breathes life into a character that is not accessible in the beginning of the film. By the end, when she finally achieves the connection she'd been searching for, the audience also feels closer to her.

The Zellner brothers (director David and co-writer Nathan) have obviously borrowed a page from the Coen brothers (whose filmography continues to inspire offbeat spin-offs on the big and small screens). Their work in KUMIKO, THE TREASURE HUNTER reminds me of the quirky, uninhibited early work of the Coens. The film isn't polished, perhaps on purpose, but it's endearing, special even. I look forward to seeing more from this team.

Rating: B+ (**** out of *****)

KUMIKO, THE TREASURE HUNTER will open in theaters on March 18th in New York City and on March 20th in Los Angeles.


Brittani Burnham said...

This just played at a film festival near me and I missed it. I thought it sounded pretty interesting. Great review!

Anonymous said...

I love the idea of this, and like you said, Kikuchi always delivers, and such variety. Love her. Great review...I'm sold, as soon as this DVD drops, it's in my player.

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