The Zellner brothers — David and Nathan — offer a compelling look at how fragile and strong the human psyche can be with their mesmerizing “Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter.” This is a tale of delusion, illusion and confusion given life through a powerful performance by Rinko Kikuchi.
The film, winner of awards at multiple film festivals, is this month’s presentation by Fresno Filmworks.
The script by the independent filmmakers is based on an urban myth that at one time was thought to be a true story. A Japanese woman supposedly traveled to Fargo because of a scene in the 1996 feature film “Fargo,” where Steve Buscemi’s character, Carl, buries a bag of money in the snow.
In the film adaptation of the story by the Zellner brothers, Kumiko has become obsessed with “Fargo,” especially that scene where a bag of money is buried in the snow along a fence. She’s watched that scenes so many times, her VHS tape breaks.
And about that time, Kumiko breaks.
Life has become slow working poison to her. She’s surrounded by soulless people at work. Her family has become a constant annoyance. She has no one in her life.
In either an act of desperation or depression, Kukimo travels from Tokyo to Fargo. Her journey takes on a fairytale tone and becomes as fanciful as Dorothy’s trip to Oz, including meeting a police officer with a big heart who has the brains to know the woman is in trouble and the courage to help her.
The directors masterfully create worlds that contrast. Kumiko’s home life isn’t a safe haven, it’s emotionally savage and cold. It’s not until she reaches the frozen North Dakota landscape — an environment that should be considered hostile to her — that she finally finds peace.
Although set in the real world, this story takes on a fantasy look, from the dark and confining home of the young woman to the vast whiteness of a snowy North Dakota field that has a heavenly feel.
“Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter” is an emotional and physical travelogue that moves along at a slow, deliberate pace. The directors don’t feel compelled to walk the audience through every emotion the young woman feels. They count on the viewer knowing when Kumiko’s mental state is in flux. She’s a young woman so desperate to find peace that she’s lost all touch with reality.
This is all delivered through stunning visuals, from the electrified world of Tokyo to the blank canvas of North Dakota. Her quest starts out as a fool’s errand. But it ends up being an escape from the insanity that reality can bring. That’s the real treasure.