REVIEW: Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter

18 03 2015

kumiko_the_treasure_hunter_ver2A shy, young office worker in Japan mysteriously stumbles upon a VHS copy of the Coen Brothers’ “Fargo” and begins to interpret it as a factual document pointing her to buried treasure in the snows of North Dakota.

That constitutes the basic premise of the odd, eccentric film “Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter” by the Zellner Brothers.  The duo certainly concocted a unique caper, one that allows a bunny and a tawdry motel duvet cover to dwarf the acting prowess of their Academy Award-nominated star Rinko Kikuchi.  She plays Kumiko as the introvert that her character is, although her timidity and ambivalence at times makes for a frustrating watch.  (For a while, I wondered if she was playing another mute character like she did in “Babel.”)

Kumiko makes for a particularly tough read because the Zellners, quite admirably, provide very little context with which to make sense of her.  Is she a naive, childlike protagonist on a quixotic quest like Thomas Schell from “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” or is she driven by sinister demons like the two assassins who claimed that J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye” told them to kill people?  The question does not get answered until the very end of “Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter,” and it provides a precious sense of tension to hold flagging interest.

The curiosity generated by the Zellners’ novel concept gradually dissipates as their tedious pacing and unrelenting ambiguity steers the film.  “Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter” is worth watching through to the end, if for no other reason than to find out what on earth will happen with this strange character.  The rewards for enduring such a slog, however, hardly amount to bountiful treasure.  B-2stars

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