Kumiko the Treasure Hunter
WINNER: Special Jury Prize, Sundance 2014
Official Selection: Berlin Film Festival 2014
Official Selection: SXSW 2014
“A wonderfully strange and beguiling adventure story comprised of buried treasure, hand crafts, and a possibly unhealthy obsession with the Coen brothers” – Scott Foundas, VARIETY
“An odd, formally striking delight” – Rodrigo Perez, INDIEWIRE
“A work of rigorously disciplined eccentricity” – Todd McCarthy, THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER
Lonely Tokyo office worker Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi) is absolutely dying at her desk, too awkward to connect with her co-workers and too timid to establish a presence for herself. In her personal life, her only connection, aside from the one with her pet rabbit, is with her mother, and it’s a passive-aggressive relationship at best. In an inspired bizarre sequence best left unspoiled here, Kumiko comes across a dropout-laden VHS cassette of the Coen Brothers’ FARGO and becomes obsessed with it. Taking the film’s farcical opening declaration that it was based on true events at absolute face value, Kumiko misunderstands FARGO to be a documentary and grows convinced that she has cracked the exact location of the suitcase full of money that Steve Buscemi buries at its close. She realizes that this secret knowledge may be her only shot at escaping a life that is crushing her. Armed with a carefully hand-drawn treasure map and very little money, Kumiko abandons everything in her life and embarks on a journey deep into mysterious Minnesota, knowing next to no English and almost nothing about the West.
Quirky and melancholic, funny and haunting with enchanting traces of the everyday surreal creeping in from its peripheries, KUMIKO THE TREASURE HUNTER is one of this year’s most beautifully unusual films. It’s the latest miracle from award-winning US indie heroes David and Nathan Zellner (KID-THING, GOLIATH), working here on a much larger scale than previously accustomed to, and making the transition brilliantly. Described by its makers as a psychological adventure, this is a road movie like no other— a sumptuously cinematic and gently humorous ode to the thrill of chasing dreams, an unflinching look into the perilous shadow-spaces of self-delusion, and the paths that can be taken when these things collide. KUKIMO unfolds with the sensibilities of both fable and psychodrama, and it often plays as if it were several ingeniously balanced films at once, with elements of fish-out-of-water alienation comedy and gently mad adventures of determination taking the form of a metaphysical pain diary — and a triumph of the will.
A standout among standouts, Kikuchi delivers one of the strongest performances of her career, which given the Academy Award nominee’s astonishing filmography, ranging from FUNKY FOREST and SURVIVE STYLE 5+ to BABEL and NORWEGIAN WOOD, is really saying something. She is absolutely heartbreaking to behold here, and yet, she glows with a wistfulness that somehow verges on the magical in its power to touch and transfix.
Executive produced by Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor and featuring a spellbinding score by the Octopus Project, this is one deeply unusual treasure hunt you absolutely must experience on a big screen.
— Mitch Davis