Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter Blu-ray Review
There’s a peculiar fascination in the first 15 minutes of KUMIKO, THE TREASURE HUNTER. An unexplained scene, which is inevitably explained throughout later, shows a woman finding a hidden VHS tape along a rocky shore in Japan. Like most humans, natural curiosity would have us dusting off the outdated VHS player we still have in our basement in a box marked “JUNK”. Upon putting it in and finding out that the VHS is the movie FARGO, we’d inevitably shut it off or keep watching to see if someone simply recorded something far more nefarious or inexplicable on it. While there’s nothing unexplainable on this VHS to the pedestrian eye, for Kumiko, it’s an escape.
She has a boring bank job that’s further disheartening by the fact she’s surrounded by chipper coworkers that she can’t relate with. It’s not laid out what’s wrong with Kumiko, but there are hints of social anxiety and a traditionalist upbringing that’s brainwashed her into believing life’s only meanings is marriage, work, and babies. So it’s slightly forgivable that someone wants to break outside the walls of the conventional life. She finds the wrecking ball to break through those walls it in the VHS of FARGO. While many of you, including myself, see it as a pop-culture form of escapism, she sees it as a real way to skedaddle and forge her own path.
Kumiko is specifically entranced by the scene where Steve Buscemi’s character in FARGO buries a briefcase full of money in the snow so that he can later retrieve it. While most of us see that as just a bizarre touch of macabre that the Coen Brothers have added to their movie, Kumiko sees it as just one of many clues where to find a fortune in the white powder of North Dakota. Kumiko lives in Japan and her knowledge of the Rough Rider State is about as limited as mine. I simply know where it is, and that’s about it. Kumiko knows about the same.
Now her journey would be a lot more difficult since she has no experience in globetrotting and she only knows sparse amounts of English. She’s also severely lacking the necessary funds to go chasing after snow-buried treasure. While most people would be bound by the obligations of life and friends, Kumiko is simply bound by her only friend, and pet, Bunzo. Her mother nags her about moving back in with her so that she can most likely set her up with a suitor. Her boss also appears to be on the verge of replacing her with someone bubblier in personality, and a lot younger, and in his eyes, more attractive. So it’s easy to see why her most difficult decision is leaving behind a creature that shares noodles with her and passes the time by cleaning itself with its adorable little paws.
Kumiko is by far a very sympathetic character, but once she arrives to the states and enters the harsh northern winter of North Dakota, there’s this sense of dread. She’s using a stolen credit card, her boss’ credit card, and appears confused any time someone speaks English to her. Sure she knows how to say, “OK,” and “Yes,” but once trouble starts, it’s hard to avoid the inevitable failure that is this journey. But watching the character’s naive realism take shape is riveting because even in the search for something that doesn’t exist, there’s the realistic opportunity that you find something more.
Kikuchi, who I only know from PACIFIC RIM, has to do a lot of the acting through facial expressions and vocal inflections. So much of what Kumiko is thinking and feeling comes across clearly through Kikuchi’s eyes that it’s quite the eerie performance. Kikuchi finds the perfect balance of hinted mental illness and guilelessness in Kumiko. Of course so much of your opinion on Kumiko’s journey rides on the final half an hour. I won’t even utter what it possibly holds or shred a single clue.
But the thing to keep in mind while watching this movie is that it’s based on a real life story. A Japanese woman traveled to Minnesota with the intent to kill herself. In this tragic story of loss, lack of self-worth, and taking of one’s own life, there was a silly urban legend that was given life by the media. The media had mistakenly believed she had come to their area in the hopes of finding that treasure by Steve Buscemi. That in itself is an interesting story that something so morbid could be turned into a silly highlight during the 10 o’clock news. While KUMIKO, THE TREASURE HUNTER, is certainly spellbinding and beautifully shot, just that snippet of factual information alone makes the ending hard to stomach.
Video: (1080p Widescreen 2:39:1) Wonderful video quality, often times highlights the vast landscapes Kumiko finds herself in. When offering a more intimate look inside her apartment or later in a hotel room, finer details are intensely clear.
Audio: (English Dolby TrueHD 5.1) This is a movie that heavily focuses on sound effects and simplistic sounds. It has a rarely heard soundtrack, but when blended together, everything works together in a beautiful, seamless, fashion.
Deleted and Alternate Scenes (6:47): There are three different scenes in here. Two of the scenes are a little bit longer than the original scenes while one is a completely different ending to the movie. It definitely conveys a drastically different message than the one in the movie. It might be the difference between an outright horror and unearthly fantasy.
Audio Commentary with Writer/Director David Zellner, Writer/Producer Nathan Zellner, and Producer Chris Ohlson: Gives a lot of insight into the creation of this movie from when they first heard about the urban legend surrounding the death of the real-life woman to the releasing of this movie. Gives a lot more detail into what went into the making of this movie as well as some of the story elements. Definitely worth a listen if you find yourself at a loss by the end of the movie.