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Review: Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter

April 3, 2015

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

Kumiko, the Treasure HunterThe 1996 film Fargo is one of the most iconic movies of the past twenty years, and an achievement that is nearly impossible to replicate.  Now the Coen Brothers classic has received an offbeat followup of sorts in the unlikely form of Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter, an arthouse curiosity that has one of the more intriguing premises of 2015, and opens today at TIFF Bell Lightbox.

The story follows Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi), a quiet office worker in Japan who becomes obsessed with Fargo, through an old worn out VHS tape that she finds in the mysterious opening scene.  She behaves oddly and clearly suffers from some form of mental illness, and believes the film to be a document of true events, even traveling to North Dakota in search of the buried money.

Like the film at its centre, Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter is also the work of filmmaking siblings.  Director David Zellner, who shines in the supporting role of a kind police officer and co-wrote the film with his brother Nathan Zellner, allows the story to have a dreamlike tone.  This leaves some elements up to debate, especially during the nicely done final scenes, and the film is a haunting and absurdly humorous odyssey at its best.

The film does run long at 105 minutes, often moving at a deliberately slow pace, and I don’t know if there’s all that much buried beneath the surface, unlike Fargo.  But at least what’s on the surface is beautifully filmed, with plenty of interesting little moments along the way.  Anchored by a compelling performance from Rinko Kikuchi, Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter is a quietly sympathetic portrait of mental illness, that reaches a pretty satisfying payoff.

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