Sundance Film Festival: Quirky “Kumiko the Treasure Hunter” goes on an epic quest, you betcha

kumiko

“I’m like a Spanish conquistador,” Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi) says at one point in “Kumiko the Treasure Hunter.” “Looking for treasure deep in the Americas.”

Only Kumiko’s quest doesn’t take her to South America, but to wintry Minneapolis in the quirky and lovely new comedy from Austin’s David and Nathan Zellner. And no, the treasure isn’t at the Mall of America.

No, Kumiko is obsessed with the movie “Fargo,” specifically the suitcase full of money that Steve Buscemi buried in the snow at the end of the film, marking the spot with a red ice scraper. Kumiko found the tape wrapped in oilskin in a secret cave (which is probably the only place you can get VHS tapes these days) and is convinced the treasure is real, and is determined to find it.

“Kumiko” is divided into two halves. The first takes place in Tokyo, where Kumiko is an “Office Lady’ for a horrible boss, derided by her colleagues, too timid to speak out. At home, her mother calls to berate her for not being married. With that kind of life, who wouldn’t want to fly halfway around the world for a chance at riches.

Rikuchi’s performance is subtly magnificent; Kumiko seems meek, but she has an unshakable conviction in her beliefs that drive her to swipe the company credit card and head out on her quest. That drive rally manifests itself in the second half of the film, shot in Minneapolis, where Kumiko dons a red hoodie and patterned bedspread and trudges through the snow, map in hand, looking for her treasure.

Along the way, she meets several people who try to help her, including a kindly deputy (David Zellner) who tries to explain that “documentary is real, normal movies are fake.” Kumiko is undeterred. You would have though the Zellners had written themselves into a narrative corner trying to figure out how to end Kumiko’s quest, but by the end she looks like an ancient, powerful warrior striding the landscape.

And anyway, who can say for sure the money isn’t out there somewhere. Have you looked?

The Zellners bring a wintry wit and a generous empathy towards Kumiko’s quest, along with a stunning visual and sound design, that makes Kumiko a strange and lovely film.

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