"KUMIKO, THE TREASURE HUNTER" is tense, distressing, poignant, but rarely enjoyable
Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter is tense, distressing, poignant, but rarely enjoyable. While the film has garnered almost universal acclaim from critics, it is not one that really resonates with me personally.
The film tells the story of Kumiko (played by Oscar nominee Rinko Kikuchi) a mentally unhinged Japanese woman who, upon finding and watching a VCR copy of the Coen brothers' 1996 classic film Fargo, decides to search for the suitcase full of money that was buried by Steve Buscemi’s character in the film (spoiler alert!). While that might sound pretty farfetched, Kumiko’s story is loosely based on true events. However, just because it’s a true story, does not necessarily mean it’s going to be a good one.
Though in retrospect, it isn’t actually the concept that makes Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter a miss for me; it is how the film goes about executing its narrative. For starters, the film is seriously bleak in tone, which I’m usually fine with, but it is also extremely slow-paced and contains almost no dialogue. Because they have taken this unhurried approach, there is a major emphasis (well, over an hour’s worth) placed on the detached Kumiko’s mundane existence in Japan. It soon becomes pretty clear that this ‘treasure’ is her only way to escape her unfulfilling life.
Kumiko herself is actually a fairly amiable character in a non-traditional sense, in some ways reminiscent of Zach Braff’s character in Garden State. However, like Braff’s character, it seems her one truly defining feature is her morose mental disconnection from everyone around her. At times, it appears as though the film's main intention is to depict a story of misery for misery's sake.
That being said, there are some reasonably commendable aspects to this film. The cinematography is very tidy, and its off-beat supporting cast bring some much-needed levity to the film. The real highlight for me though, is the awkward policeman (played by director David Zellner himself) who takes Kumiko to a Chinese restaurant in hopes that the staff can translate her Japanese into English. Somewhat disappointingly, this isn’t a film about the inept policeman from Minnesota.
The score doesn’t really do the film any favours either. Not that there’s anything wrong with the actual score perse – rather, it tries to take the viewer somewhere that the film is unable to. It quickly builds an extremely tense atmosphere and just as abruptly (and consistently) results in something anticlimactic. It just doesn’t really match what’s happening on the screen.
While Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter is commendable in its ambition; the film's execution of its central character's sombre tale is ultimately both frustrating and alienating to its audience.