It is my destiny

It is my destiny

 

Everybody’s quest for happiness takes them down a different path. Some just need to follow the breadcrumbs laid down for them towards the job, the house, and the family. They take their joy from being an upright citizen and doing what is expected of them. Others though, are restless. They look at those breadcrumbs and feel no urge to follow where they go. Their quest leads them to stranger places…in search of more unique treasures.

KUMIKO THE TREASURE HUNTER begins one grey afternoon, when Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi) goes to a cave by the sea-shore in search of treasure. Guided by a handmade map, she turns over a stone where X has marked the spot, and finds a videotape. It’s a copy of FARGO, the Coen Brothers film from 1996.

When Kumiko takes it home and watches it, she becomes obsessed with the briefcase full of money that Steve Buschemi buries in the film’s final act. Because the film concludes without a clear fate for that case, Kumiko believes that it must still be there…that being a byproduct of Kumiko believing the film to be fact, not fiction.

So Kumiko watches the tape endlessly. She counts fence posts, makes notes, draws maps, and begins to plan out a way to get to Fargo and dig up that abandoned money.

Thing is, this is the only part of her life that demonstrates any real drive. The rest of the time, she’s doing clerical work in a Tokyo office, running menial tasks for her disenfranchised boss, and ducking calls from her doting mother. For Kumiko, FARGO becomes El Dorado. Every fibre of her being is poured into making her way to America to undertake her treasure hunt, including employing some nefarious means.

But getting to America is just the beginning. If you guessed that the American midwest would be an odd experience for a young woman who barely speaks a word of english, well – you’re right. Seeking the treasure might be tricky, but just getting to the general vicinity of the treasure is downright Herculean.

 

KTTH2

 

As we grow up, nobody tells us that we will likely encounter a restlessness. Nobody tells us that we will get a good education, find a steady job, move out on our own and still long for more. What some people will tell us is that we might be able to fill that void with spouses and children…but that isn’t the case for everybody. What then? What is an anxious soul supposed to do, and where are they supposed to look?

What’s so beautiful about an odd little story like KUMIKO THE TREASURE HUNTER is the way it directly addresses that want for “something more”. Kumiko’s meagre existence clearly isn’t enough for her, hence the semi-permanent vacant expression and the deep desire to go off to America. Her want to chase The Fargo Money is admittedly nutty, but one must admit – at least it’s an ambitious desire. When we listen to her mother, her boss, and her old friend suggest how much more she would gain out of finding a husband and having a child, it’s clear to us that those aren’t the sort of goals Kumiko has in mind. So while she could make these her immediate pursuit, when she got them, she likely wouldn’t be any happier than she is right that moment; she’d just have more responsibility. So between the treasure and the family, which one is really nutty?

Kikuchi makes us understand this with expressions of vacancy and determination…with startling little in-between. When she is doing her duty as a corporate drone, or listening to people prattle on about what she should be doing with her life, her hair seems that much more frizzy…her eyes that much more glazed-over. She couldn’t care less, and not only does she not care, but she doesn’t care to pretend she doesn’t care. One might think that a person this disengaged is just living in a fog. However, when we see her trying to work out which fencepost Steve Buschemi buried the briefcase under…or figuring out how to get herself a ride up the road to Fargo, there’s a sharpness to her expression. Everything seems more determined, more driven

When one is contrasted to the other, it truly becomes a beautiful performance.

When considering KUMIKO THE TREASURE HUNTER, one also has to consider how it compliments the artists who inspire it. With so much of the story hanging on a Coen Brothers masterpiece, KUMIKO needs to compliment that film without becoming a pastiche of it. Therefore while one would think that this story should be littered with “Ya”s and “You Betcha”s, the truth is that if the midwest patois were to suddenly consume this film, it would seem like a cheap knock-off. No, what KUMIKO had to achieve is a film that was in the spirtit of The Coen Brothers without becoming specifically “Coen-esque”. Amazingly, it does that. Between a deaf cabbie and non-understanding of how different Japanese and Chinese truly are, the quiet absurdities that dot Coen Brothers films are subtly nodded to. Likewise, the very core of this film – the desire to rise above ones station by any means available – is a virtue at the core of every Joel & Ethan Joint.

In essence, with the spectre of FARGO looming over KUMIKO, the film feels like something The Coens could have made, but when the FARGO link is taken away, it also feels like something very unique.

However, in the true spirit of The Coen Brothers, not all is explained. We spend so much time wandering down the road with Kumiko, wondering when she’ll ever get it through her red-hooded-head that the treasure isn’t really there and worrying about how much danger she has gotten herself into. We never take a moment to stop and ask aloud how she found that video copy of FARGO in the first place.

Much like Coen Brothers movie, it’s never explained…and much like a Coen Brothers movie, it never matters.

Matineescore: ★ ★ ★ out of ★ ★ ★ ★
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