Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter Blu-ray Review

     Actors: Rinko Kikuchi, Shirley Vendard, Nobuyuki Katsube, David Zellner, Nathan Zellner
  • Director: David Zellner
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Blu-ray, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: English (Dolby TrueHD 5.1)
  • Subtitles: English, Spanish
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: ANCHOR BAY
  • Release Date: June 30, 2015
  • Run Time: 104 minutes

            Bleak doesn’t even begin to describe the narrative of Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter, containing more than a few similarities to the Zellner Brothers’ earlier film, Goliath, about a depressed man searching for his lost cat. Add cultural differences and an increase in mental instability and the main difference between the two films is better production values and a stronger performance by leading actress Rinko Kikuchi. The cinematography looks great and the premise based loosely on a true story is compelling, though I’m afraid I don’t share the same fascination as the Zellners with the lives of solitary depressed individuals.


            Inspired by the sad events in the life of a mentally unstable woman, Kumiko follows the title character in a delusional search for the treasure buried in the narrative of the Coen brothers’ film, Fargo. What makes the conception of this premise so initially clever is the fact that the Coens opened their film with the claims that Fargo was based on true events. This was completely fabricated, meant to be a clever device in the viewing experience, but a lonely Tokyo office worker named Kumiko (Kikuchi) takes it very seriously. Even more than the misunderstanding about the reality of the film’s narrative, Kumiko seems unable to distinguish the difference between a fictional film and documentary, re-watching an old VHS copy in hopes of finding clues to the actual treasure buried in North Dakota.


            Lost in her unsatisfying life as an office worker, Kumiko fantasizes about escaping to become a treasure hunter in America. There are hints at some type of romantic loss leading up to this mental break, but we join Kumiko when she is already far off the deep end, making her a difficult character to understand or relate to. With a decreased lack of interest in her job and an inability to have normal social interactions, Kumiko primarily only speaks with her pet rabbit and her mother. The rabbit eventually gets left behind and her mother receives nothing more than lies over sporadic phone calls, even when Kumiko uses a stolen company credit card to take an impromptu trip to Fargo, North Dakota.


            There are those who would likely praise and defend this film for the mere fact that it refrains from a sentimental resolution. Though I can respect the boldness of the filmmaker’s resolution to avoid the expected narrative trappings, it is easier to respect a character film with a protagonist so utterly hopeless than it is to enjoy. More than marveling at the strength of the filmmaking, I found myself wondering why it was wasted on such a fruitless subject matter. Even more disappointing was the lengths the Zellners appeared to go through to avoid parallels to the film which inspired the actions of this movie. I didn’t expect a laugh riot, but a bit of dark humor may have helped the narrative feel less one-note and helplessly depressing. There is really only one resolution a film like this can have, and the narrative plods sadly towards this inevitability without a glimmer of sentimentality or hope.


            I may not share the same sensibility as brother filmmakers David and Nathan Zellner, but I do appreciate that the quality of their filmmaking has increased since Goliath. That was an ugly film about an unappealing subject matter. Though the themes seem often the same in Kumiko, it has the benefit of Sean Porter’s impressive cinematography to counter the grating narrative. As well as a polished image for the high definition presentation, the Blu-ray also contains a handful of deleted/alternate scenes and a commentary track with the Zellners and producer Chris Ohlson.


    Entertainment Value: 6.5/10

    Quality of Filmmaking: 7.5/10

    Historical Significance:  6/10

    Special Features: 6.5/10

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