|Review by Generoso Fierro|
Cameron Lamb, Chris Ohlson, Nathan Zellner
Executive Producer: Alexander Payne
Written by David Zellner, Nathan Zellner
Directed by David Zellner
Starring Rinko Kikuchi, Nobuyuki Katsube,
This past week on my blog, I discussed the concept of “Based On A True Story” in relation to Charles B. Pierce’s 1976 slasher film The Town That Dreaded Sundown, which uses as its source, the murders committed by “The Phantom” in and around the town of Texarkana, AR in 1946. In his quest to utilize the ”true story” as a selling point for the film’s horror, Pierce went as far as to put the dates of the slayings on screen before the commission of the crime (many of the dates were incorrect).
Though the technique added an element of fear as the actual killer was never caught, its overall treatment did somewhat of a disservice to that community, and especially to the families of some of the “Phantom’s” victims, who even filed suit against the distributor.
Considering the fuss that normally ensues (or perhaps the benefit of extra publicity) it makes one wonder about the necessity of using the tagline “Based On A True Story” when approaching the production of a project that could still effect the people who might be connected to it.
The “true story” of Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter is based on is that of Takako Konishi, a 28 year old Japanese office worker who was found dead in a field outside Detroit Lakes, Minnesota in 2001.
Originally the media had fabricated a story in which Konishi had died while trying to locate the money that Steve Buscemi’s character had buried in the snow in the Coen Brothers fictitious 1996 crime film, Fargo. The actual “true story” was that Konishi had come to Minnesota to visit an ex-lover who was a married businessman, but when her feelings were not returned by him, she (Konishi) committed suicide by overdosing on alcohol and sedatives. This was confirmed when a suicide note that she had written to her parents was discovered in Bismarck. Her actual story was smartly detailed in the 2003 documentary, This Is A True Story, directed by Paul Berczeller.
David Zellner’s new film, Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter, is inspired more by the myth, than the actual events surrounding the death of Konishi.
What make this film successful are the melancholic atmosphere and the performance by Rinko Kikuchi in the titular role, based on the facts that are extracted about Konishi’s sad life while still in Japan. Kumiko is a Tokyo office worker who barely speaks during much of the beginning of the film. She saunters around performing the egregious tasks of her office job with a disheveled appearance, complete with unkempt hair, in an almost catatonic state.
Kumiko’s apartment is even a worse state and she wanders that space draped in a blanket, like a ghostly apparition until she settles down and obsessively watches the object she has discovered at the end of a dreamlike treasure hunt, a waterlogged VHS copy of the aforementioned Coen Brothers film, Fargo.
Kumiko keys in on the scene where Buscemi’s character Carl Showalter, face bloodied, buries the ill-
gotten loots from his botched kidnapping. It is clear that Kumiko’s time where she currently resides is without any meaning and perhaps this scene is as good a launching point as any to give purpose to her clearly purposeless life. Following this moment, where a few strange occurrences that include a bank fraud and the making of a treasure map, Kumiko is off to Minnesota to her treasure, real or not.
We are left to decide for most of the film as to what the mental state is of Kumiko and the decisions that she is about to make and this is where Kukuchi really shines as she carries a great deal of character through small expressions and gestures. Though she acquires a band of not too exaggerated Midwesterners to join her in her hunt, director Zellner cleverly allows the plot to unfold through Kumiko and the unforgiving malaise that her character creates in this invasion of the quiet Japanese aesthetic into the usually obtuse world of a Coen Brothers narrative that oddly borrows from both a fictitious created world and the selected pieces of a real life person who could not handle the reality of her own tragic existence.
Despite its overall dour tone and the cringingly sad potential of making a mockery out of the death of a truly sad human existence, Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter is a beautifully realized film that is eminently watchable for the one small belief that many hold onto to that a dream, imagined or not, might actually rectify a lifetime of poor decisions.