Kumiko works a Tokyo office job and is dominated by her very middle-aged, genuinely patriarchal male boss. She has failed to live up to Japanese conservatism’s demand that a good woman is married and oversees a traditional home. Worse still, the setting is the present.
At age 29 time is running out. Her boss tells her, that younger, and by insinuation, more nubile younger women are clamoring for her job. She’s only 29 and already a target of ageism! Piling on is her mother who is just as, if not more, harassing about Kumiko getting married.
Rinko Kikuchi plays Kumiko with a profoundly palpable sense of depth throughout the film. She feels like a time bomb about to explode into either devastation or overflowing love. But which will it be? One of the performance’s miraculous aspects is that even though Kikuchi sustains this seemingly low emotional frequency for most of the film, she constantly keeps us guessing about just what’s going through the character’s seemingly delusional mind.
That delusion comes from Kumiko’s quirky fixation/obsession with a scene she watches often and diagrams from a VHS tape of a desperate Steve Buscemi hiding the money stash in the Coen Brother’s Fargo. We learn that she actually thinks that the money-filled suitcase is still buried somewhere in the northern Minnesota snow.
Kumiko is so determined that she flies to Minneapolis and sets foot toward where her self-made map says the treasure awaits. This odyssey is filled with odd and captivating scenes, one in which a much older woman, beautifully played by Twin Cities-based actress Shirley Venard shimmers with mysterious interaction.
The sequence between Venard and Kikuchi conveys multiple feelings and thoughts sprung from ironic miscommunication. Since Kumiko knows no English she cannot convey anything about her crazy quest. And the older woman feels understandably compelled to get her to back where she thinks she belongs, and to sate her appetite with hotdish.
Co-writers David and Nathan Zellner take a kindlier view of Minnesota than our native Coen boys did in Fargo. This is further emphasized in a scene where David, also the film’s director, also turns in a touching performance as a law enforcement officer. Just as Venard’s character embodies nurturance and protection in feminine form, so the officer embodies those in male form. I couldn’t help but think that if all US law enforcement personnel would emulate the actor Zellner’s sense of humanity, this nation could utterly transform, and quickly.
Sean Porter’s cinematography powerfully conveys the overwhelming sense of nature over an individual human being. Music by the Octopus Projects brings emotional splendor to this wonderful film comedy.
Kumiko the Treasure Hunter
Starts Mar. 27
Lagoon Cinema, 1320 Lagoon Av., Mpls.