Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter – David Zellner gives us Cohen love. (SFF Film Review)


Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter opens in Sydney this week, so this review has been revived.

Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter  is now showing at the Sydney Film Festival.

You can grab your tickets here.

We shape our reality by our perceptions, and often our world is built around a foundational “truth” that can’t be proven “true”, but we remain clingy to that great power outside of ourself, whether it be God, science, the natural order, a base “instinct”, a series of foundational principles or whatever we want to call our “Big Other”, that makes sense to us and gives meaning to our lives. Close examination of this need reveals an equally potent drive to interpret the world through that lens, and it is in this realm that the world of art and in this particular case films can be used, arguably against purpose, to satisfy and feed the longing we have for continuity around a certain perception. Do we use films to tell us something we didn’t know about the world, or do we use films as a propaganda to prop up a vision of the world that we do not want challenged? This question is of great interest to David Zellner, whose dense Kumiko The treasure Hunter, examines the place in our lives where films and ideology, faith or belief connect, centering this focus around that most iconic of cinematic feeds, the Great American Dream.

Already immersed in a belief contrary to the world she finds herself in, late twenty-year-old single Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi) is treasure hunting on a beach, using a spurious map. She finds her “X” and digs, only to discover a video tape in the wet sand. When she takes the tape home, the audience and Kumiko see that the tape is the film is Fargo, and the opening title from the Cohen brothers, that states “This is a true story” immediately captures Kumiko. Fargo is a film that was touted to be true when it wasn’t, and while the Cohn brothers stuck to their story before the film came out, it was Joel who, so taken with the idea that no one bothered to check on the authenticity, kept saying it only strayed a little from the true story. When the screenplay was published, it is Ethan who sets the record straight. Kumiko makes a subconscious decision that the film is true – something just about everyone did when they first watched Fargo – and subsequently decides to dig up the lost treasure by the side of the road buried by Carl Showalter in the film. Kumiko then belives, taking steps in the physical world that so lets her down, to bring the truth of Fargo closer and closer to her reality.


Kumiko finds purpose in her drive to get the treasure that she believes is hers, working with the kind of obsession that is often rewarded, if it has a socially sanctioned purpose. However, the world is not kind to her, forcing her to internalise more and more, dissociating from her reality in order to immerse in her other world. When she steals a company credit card to get to the States to make her way to Fargo, it is a spur of the moment decision, a flight from circumstances, her theft a kind of subconscious pay back for having to endure a despicably bleak word in the name of morality. Kumiko’s mother and boss habitually attack her through the thinly veiled kindness of advice, her mother accusing her of neglect for living alone when she should be caring for her mother (because she is not caring for a husband or children) and her boss dropping hints that she will soon be fired because she is not young and attractive enough to satisfy whatever criteria they need in secretaries. He dangles the fresh new blood in front of her, in a kind of masochistic open refusal of her subjectivity, constantly implying she loses her value as she loses her looks. Kumiko responds to these assumptions with a withdrawn vacant stare that delightfully exacerbates her detractors, but unfortunately earns her no respite. But she goes home to watch the scene where the treasure is buried by the roadside, and carefully constructs detailed maps outlying the distance between the road and the red marker in the snow, then cross stitches them onto cloths for no discernible reason other than she is fulfilling a more interesting destiny.


Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter is also a kind of fan fiction in a way, as the film is heavy with Cohen brothers film references, including an orange bunny surrogate for Llewyn Davis’ subway cat, abandoned by Kumiko when Davis’ was forced to keep his cat. Zellner allows his character to be a Cohen heroine, realising her vision for her, even as she thinks she is on her way to realising her vision for herself. Ultimately, Kumiko’s treasure is forged from her refusal to accept the reality of the world as the only one available, and Zellner’s painting of her immortalises her in the world she builds. Kumiko is not necessarily likeable, but we root for her, we want her to get to that fence and to find that treasure, because she is searching for something we all go to the movies to experience.

Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter is an odd-ball film with a complex female character at the helm. It is beautifully performed by Kikuchi, and lovingly filmed by Zellner, with many cinematic tropes loyal to Cohen films that are fun to stumble upon in the films watching. It is a must for Cohen brothers film fans but also an intricate and absorbing experience for other lovers of fine cinema. Like so many films at this years Sydney Film Festival, Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter sneaks up and captures your heart without you realising it.

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