Brilliant acting, score, and camera. If only the plot could have held it together.
We’ve all watched a film at some point in our lives that we desperately hope is real. Whether it be because of magic, or the ability to resurrect dinosaurs, or maybe because you really think that Nicholas Cage is the greatest treasure hunter alive. Kumiko (eager to take Cage’s title) believes that Fargo, the Coen Brothers classic, is real… and with that, so is the famous buried suitcase.
The story begins when Kumiko discovers a VHS copy of the film and becomes obsessed with it, using it as an escape from her life. While the other girls in the office are gossiping about their searches for husbands, she stands in the corner. When old school friends approach her she can barely mumble her way through a conversation. It’s very much implied that Kumiko suffers from some form of mental illness, but the film never uses it as an excuse for her actions, it instead attempts to bring you into her world, in the hopes that you understand her actions.
At times I imagined the film would become similar to Amelie, due to her almost childlike mentality, and the process of the narrative; which tracks her journey and the people that she encounters, potentially showing her effect on their lives. However, what happens instead is that we are introduced to these characters just as soon their part is concluded, and without any inferred meaning or change. While Kumiko may be complex and interesting, the plot of her film is not. A majority of the encounters have no real argument for being included as they don’t really add to anything, with the exception of runtime. I’m surprised by so many great reviews of the film, given that a majority of people would regard it as either dull, slow, or both, which I do agree it gets close to being at times.
Thankfully while the story may not be up to scratch, everything else is. The cinematography is beautiful enough for a film ten times its budget, with the editing following close behind. Rinko Kikuchis performance is pretty captivating, showing great control in the minute details of the character, from the pacing of her speech to a flicker in her eyes. The soundtrack echoes the tone of the film brilliantly and again was remarkably good for the scale of the production. Finally, the last aspect of the film that took me by surprise were the few moments of comedy, granted they are few and far between, and may rely on having a slightly off-kilter sense of humour, but when they were used it was a welcome change from the quiet.
There’s no doubt that in the director’s mind every decision in the film probably has some meaning behind it, but when watching it, it really is not that apparent. It seems as though the director wanted to make the idea so badly, that he didn’t stop to think if it worked. The meaningful moments feel so spread apart that it’s clear that the idea would have bettered as an extended short instead of a feature, and would most likely have been higher in quality.
Kumiko The Treasure Hunter (2014), directed by David Zellner, is distributed in the UK on DVD and Blu-ray by Soda Pictures, Certificate 12.