Kumiko is clinically depressed. The audience is never expressly told this, but it’s readily apparent from her demeanor. She sleepwalks through her days at work in a corporate office building. She doesn’t even smile as she spits in the coffee that she makes for her boss each morning. It’s a joyless act of defiance. Kumiko is twenty-nine and unmarried. By Japanese standards, she’s practically a spinster. Younger and prettier “office girls” are waiting in the wings to take her job. Her mother repeatedly tells her that she should already have a husband and children. The audience can hear the disappointment in her voice as she points out her daughter’s shortcomings.
Kumiko spends her evenings with her pet rabbit, Bunzo, endlessly watching a VHS copy of the Coen Brothers’ masterpiece Fargo. Over and over again, she sees Steve Buscemi bury a briefcase filled with cash in a snow bank near a state highway in North Dakota. She makes a homemade treasure map detailing the precise whereabouts of the stash of cash. In her imagination, she is Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter, and she wants nothing more than to travel to America and find the fortune awaiting her. Does she mistakenly think the film is a documentary? Or has she lost touch with reality to the extent that her fantasies seem like reality?
The premise of this film is ultimately more interesting than its execution. Like so many indie films, Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter falters when it comes to maintaining a consistent tone. Is it a comedy with an absurdist premise? Is it an examination of mental illness? Is it a drama about a woman who is no longer able to bear the weight of societal expectations? Kumiko is at once all of these things and none of them. The film never fully commits to a consistent point of view and offers a vague cop-out of an ending, leaving the audience with more questions than answers. Along the way, Kumiko meets some quirky characters, and there are laugh-out-loud moments of humor. But these elements only serve as a temporary distraction from the film’s lack of a cohesive narrative.
Rinko Kikuchi disappears into the sullen persona of Kumiko, but it’s a one-dimensional performance by design. She spends the majority of the film in silence, sullenly contemplating the world bustling around her. She is the kind of person who passively waits for life to happen to her, rather than taking control of her future. Why is she like this? The audience is never told. We are asked to accept at face value that Kumiko has issues and then go along for the ride. If Kumiko had met a therapist along the way, her sessions with a psychiatrist would have made a more interesting film.
Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter is by no means a bad film. It certainly falls in the category of See It and Judge For Yourself. I couldn’t help spending the majority of the film thinking about the film that could’ve been made from such an interesting premise, but wasn’t.
The Movie Isle
Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for themovieisle.com. From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for filmdispenser.com. Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.