A film that was premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, Kumiko The Treasure Hunter directed by David Zellner is a film that oozes a strange mix of despair and the power of a dream.
Kumiko, a lonely twenty nine year old girl residing in a sad, messy apartment in the crowded confines of Tokyo with her pet rabbit Bunzo, finds one day walking along the beach a seemingly mystical cave. Hidden under a rock inside, she discovers an envelope in which she finds an old and sand-ridden VHS tape. Back in her apartment, she plunges the tape in an old VHS player, and is immediately enthralled by the images she sees on the tape of a man hiding a suitcase filled with money under a fence in a snowy terrain; the scene is from the 1996 film Fargo, in which a band of thieves kidnap a desperate businessman’s wife at his request, demanding a ransom of $80.000,00 from her wealthy father in exchange for her return. Sadly, the VHS tape becomes entangled in the player, forcing Kumiko to purchase a DVD player, along with a new, digital copy of Fargo.
The naive Kumiko, who is very much a child in demeanor and personality, believes Fargo to be real, convinced that the opening titles stating: “This is a true story. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota 1987. At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed. Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred” are the telltale signs of a factual testimony. Fed up with her job, her bigot boss who reminds her constantly that she is getting old and is yet unmarried (Kumiko responds by secretly spitting in his afternoon tea), she decides to go to Fargo, Minnesota to find the $80.000,00 hidden by Steve Buscemi’s character, Carl Showalter. This seems like an impossible dream having no money and no prospects of obtaining any, but a golden opportunity drops in her lap when her much despised boss gives her the company credit card so she can buy an anniversary present for his wife.
Despite her naivete, Kumiko recognizes a one in a lifetime opportunity. Having secured a map from a torn library book, she cross-stitches a map of the location the treasure is hidden. The next step in her plan is a painful one; letting Bunzo go. When she doesn’t succeed in setting him free in the park, the faithful bunny staying by her side instead of hopping away, Kumiko places him in the seat of a subway car, crying as it pulls away with her beloved Bunzo inside.
When she arrives in Fargo, everything goes astray. With her limited English, she walks alongside the road in a snowstorm somewhere outside Minneapolis, and is finally picked up by an elderly woman who takes her home and gives Kumiko hot chocolate and a blanket, but refuses to take her to Fargo. The determined Kumiko makes her way along, running into a kind policeman along the way whose uniform is reminiscent of Frances Mcdorman’s sheriff gear in the film Fargo. When the police officer informs her that Fargo is just a movie, Kumiko angrily runs away, clad in her red hoodie and a multi-color comforter she steals from a motel, and promptly getting into the car of a deaf taxi driver, who agrees to take her to Fargo. When they arrive to the location she recognizes on the map, she runs from the taxi (and the cab fare) through the woods, encountering frigid temperatures and an impending snow storm.
The ending of the film is surprising but not disappointing. Kumiko finds the treasure hidden by Carl Showalter exactly where he left it in the film. Bunzo is there too, and she cheerfully walks away with the money and her rabbit nestled comfortably in her arms. Undoubtedly, the ending is a suggestion of Kumiko’s demise in the woods, a victim of a hostile climate and of her own mental frailty. The film presents the possibility of distortion, when the limits of fantasy and reality become unclear, and one becomes as genuine and tangible as the other.