Written by David Zellner and Nathan Zellner
Directed by David Zellner
Starring Rinko Kikuchi
THIS IS A TRUE STORY.
Coming out of the Sundance Film Festival with a Special Jury Prize, one would have high expectations for David Zellner’s KUMIKO, THE TREASURE HUNTER. With quirky dialogue, an awesome score, and sharp direction, the film has all the elements required for a great film. This is nearly derailed by its entirely unlikeable lead character, Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi, BABEL).
Kumiko is a standoffish young women working in Japan. She treats everyone around her with absolutely no respect or kindness. Her coworkers and acquaintances want to get to know her, but Kumiko pays no attention to them. She spends most of her time alone with her rabbit, which she doesn’t seem to care about much either. After discovering a copy of Joel Coen and Ethan Coen’s 1996 film FARGO on a fuzzy VHS, Kumiko decides to travel to America to find the money Steve Buscemi buries in the film. Along her journey through Minnesota and North Dakota, Kumiko encounters many interesting characters, many of whom surprisingly want to help her, but sadly, even these people (except for one awkward instance) can’t get much of a response from her.
There’s so much to like in KUMIKO, THE TREASURE HUNTER, but it is hard to attach oneself to a film when its protagonist has no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Its hard to tell if this was Zellner’s intention while making the film, but Kumiko is so unlikeable that I actually found myself hoping she wouldn’t find the money.
Thankfully, the supporting characters in the film are quite charming and their attempts to communicate with the Japanese speaking Kumiko are quite entertaining. In crafting these characters, Zellner (and his co-writer/brother Nathan) attempts to mimic the likeness of the Coens’ characters, and they succeed to great lengths. From a bumbling policeman, to an overbearing old woman, to a deaf cabdriver, each is more likeable, and more interesting, than Kumiko herself.
KUMIKO, THE TREASURE HUNTER is a very frustrating film. The protagonist is so difficult to like, and the near two hours spent with her felt longer than it should have. Regardless, it is still worth seeking out for FARGO fans.