Sunday, April 5, 2015

Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter

"Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter" is a quirky character study directed by David Zellner (Kid Thing). Despite a far-flung premise, (although based on an actual urban legend)  its whimsy is intoxicating and it evolves into a thoughtful story.

Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi) a solitary office worker in Tokyo, lives alone with her pet bunny Bunzo and a television.

She is obsessed by one thing: the film "Fargo" and not because of the acting by Steve Buscemi or William H. Macy, but because she is convinced beyond all doubt that "Fargo" is not fiction but a true story with a briefcase full of green cash buried under mounds of North Dakota snow.

The intimate details of loners and misfits are Zellner's usual oeuvre, and he does well once again here. We see Kumiko as she distances herself from co-workers, spits in her boss's tea and endlessly watches grainy images of a bloody Buscemi as he asthmatically buries his cash in a patch of  ice with a red marker.

There are even hints of an Asia Extreme horror tale when at one point, the VCR consumes her sacred tape. Kumiko tries to pull out the cassette, but the tape bends and twists underneath her grasp melting into a strange octopus entity from an early David Cronenberg film. She takes the shredded cellulose gathering it in a loose heap, and lastly inhales it like a bouquet of black roses, meant for other lovers.

Kumiko leads a geometric and routine double life but gradually she becomes overwhelmed by the promise of wintry money.

Once the girl takes off for Fargo, the film mimics the tone of David Lynch's "Blue Velvet," as an airplane's orange steam fills the screen while the song "Dream" by Johnny Mercer is heard.

The most eerie aspect though, is the main concept that Kumiko transforms from a rather mundane person into a Kafkaesque and spiritual being through the processes of her mind alone. It is she alone who makes the cloth treasure map and by herself she also makes a conquistador's robe from an ordinary motel comforter.

Kumiko is on a quest for her identity and again like a character out of Kafka, she is forever misunderstood. First by a Good Samaritan (Shirley Venard) and then by a sheriff (excellently played by director David Zellner) who absurdly takes Kumiko to a Chinese restaurant in the hope of finding a translator. While there are several humorous scenes, it is this dry episode that most closely echoes the Cohen Brothers' deadpan humor complete with the sheriff's fuzzy hat.

Although quoting  various sources, from graphic novels, to Asian Horror, to Little Red Riding Hood,  to the art of Pieter Brueghel and TV's "Twin Peaks," the most haunting  surprise of "Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter" is that we feel the hope in this eccentric young lady, however bizarre it may seem. More vividly still, we begin to actually see the mythical leather suitcases that exist in lucrative pools within her deep brown eyes.

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