The desperate delusion of Kumiko

Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter stars Rinko Kikuchi, who earned an Oscar nomination (Best Supporting Actress) for Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s 2006 drama Babel, in the title role of a Japanese woman so obsessed with the Coen Brothers movie Fargo (1996) that she is convinced that the satchel of money buried in the film actually exists.

If the storyline seems vaguely similar to the acclaimed 2013 film Nebraska, that film’s director, Alexander Payne, is an executive producer here. And like Fargo, Kumiko was written by sibling filmmakers Nick and David Zellner, with both appearing and the latter directing.

Beautifully shot by Sean Porter, the story explores Kumiko’s drab existence in Tokyo. Friendless, unmarried, disdained by co-workers and endlessly harangued by her mother on the phone, she impetuously decides to follow her quixotic dream, flying to Minnesota in search of her treasure.

Kumiko’s sense of isolation intensifies in the United States, despite friendly attempts to aid her (including David Zellner as a helpful cop), and what might in some films appear to be a journey of self-discovery here portends a journey of self-destruction, as Kumiko’s grasp on reality further frays.

The film maintains a droll, dry sense of humor – a trademark of both Payne and the Coens – yet offers Kikuchi a tour-de-force role that she plays with a heartbreaking desperation that doesn’t overreach for audience sympathy and sometimes, indeed, goes the opposite direction. The film’s final, ethereal and surreal note echoes, perhaps appropriately enough, the final moments of Innaritu’s Oscar-winning Birdman. It comes like a bolt out of the blue. (In English and Japanese with English subtitles.)

Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter opens Friday at a/perture cinema, Winston- Salem. !

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