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Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter

This is a fascinating character study that’s part non-fiction, part urban-legend, and completely compelling. I’m sure most of you recall the 1996 award-winning “Fargo”, from the Coen Brothers, and you may remember that film opening with a claim that it’s based on a true story. And certain elements of it, indeed are. But how many know about the tale of Takako Konishi, a young Japanese woman who purportedly froze to death searching for the money that the Steve Buscemi character buried in the Minnesota snow? A lot of that particular story is non-fiction too, although the filmmakers do take certain liberties in “Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter”. Nonetheless, it’s fascinating, and an interesting companion piece to “Fargo”. Oh ya.

Kumiko (a marvelous Rinko Kikuchi) is a 29-year-old office worker in Tokyo. She’s anti-social, trapped in a dead-end job, lonely, and is nagged over the phone by an overbearing mother. Obsessed with the American movie “Fargo”, Kumiko dreams of flying to the United States, and locating the money that a main character hides beneath the snowy landscape. Finally fed up with her tortured life in Japan, Kumiko takes her journey to the States, and is almost immediately met with the harsh realities of her quest. And despite assurances from a kindly police officer, that the events in “Fargo” are fictional, Kumiko, with limited funds, unsuitable clothing, and a minimal grasp of the English language, begins a tortuous hunt for the “treasure”.

Is Kumiko crazy, naive, or both? She certainly exhibits signs of each, throughout this picture’s 105-minute running time. A lot of what occurs in “Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter” is fiction, but the amazing Rinko Kikuchi makes Kumiko heart-breakingly real for the audience, so Kumiko’s tale is never less than completely compelling, as well as tragic. A lot of care and patience has been put into the making of this feature, by the writing/directing team of Nathan and David Zellner (the brothers also have roles in the movie), and Kumiko is never treated as anything less than credible. There are also some fantastic supporting performances, in this film lover’s curiosity, but does the feature owe us a more satisfying payoff? Some will believe yes, but “Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter” should still grip you most of the way. It could even break your heart.

Grade:  B

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