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Review: ‘Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter’ is a blur of fact and fiction (Includes first-hand account)

Everyone dreams of something better no matter how content they may be in life. It’s the reason the lottery was invented — the promise of an enhanced future no matter how small the odds is enough to keep people coming back week after week. However, for the dissatisfied that wish can be a lifeline; the hope of improvement may be the only thing motivating them to keep going. But what happens if the pipedream is just that — an unattainable fantasy? In Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter, a young Japanese woman clings to a goal that she can never achieve.

Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi) dislikes every aspect of her existence. She is 29, lives alone and works as an executive assistant surrounded by younger woman just biding their time until they find a husband. Her mother is always displeased with her and their weekly conversations are painful to endure. No one understands why she’s not yet married and everyone asks about her dating prospects. But Kumiko has a backup plan, albeit an impractical one: she plans to find the money buried in the snow in Minnesota as depicted in the Coen brothers‘ movie, Fargo. She carefully re-watches the film that’s “based on a true story” every evening, taking meticulous notes on the suitcase’s location before finally fleeing to America to find her fortune.

In spite of Kumiko’s imprudence, it’s impossible not to pity her. She is so miserable in her real life, it’s unsurprising she has fashioned this illusory escape plan; though her apparent inability to distinguish fact from fiction is troubling. She clings so tightly to the delusion of buried treasure that even when people try to expose the futility of her journey she refuses to believe them. Moreover, her desperation only increases as she relies more heavily on its existence. Uprooting and ruining her life in pursuit of false riches, she finally reaches a point at which she’s willing to do anything to get to the fabled fence in Fargo.

Writer/director David Zellner creates a striking film from this tale of blind faith and despair. Kumiko’s emotions permeate every aspect of the movie so her sorrow radiates from the screen. Yet there is an undeniable beauty to the picture, which reaches its peak in the stunning, bittersweet conclusion. Audiences are drawn to Kumiko’s quest, in the hopes that she’ll turn her futile expedition into something worthwhile in the end. The variety of characters she encounters in America is also fascinating, from religious, unofficial tour guides to a kind but clueless woman to a compassionate deputy who does his best to protect Kumiko from herself.

The real-life story that inspired this film more than a decade ago became somewhat of an urban legend, but this movie is a beautiful ode to her fateful journey.

Director: David Zellner
Starring: Rinko Kikuchi, Nobuyuki Katsube and Shirley Venard

Written By

Sarah Gopaul is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for film news, a member of the Online Film Critics Society and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer-approved critic.

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