Kumiko the Treasure Hunter ***
Dir: David Zellner. Starring: Rinko Kikuchi, Nobuyuki Katsube, Shirley Venard, David Zellner, Nathan Zellner. 12A cert, 105 min
Increasingly it seems as though the most valuable legacy of Fargo, that cherished neo-noir of 1996, were the footsteps the Coen brothers left behind in the snow for others to pursue. First came Noah Hawley’s recent TV spin-off, which dug new pathways around this frozen Minnesota backwater, fixing up the Coens’ shoddier plotting en route; there now follows the Zellner brothers’ Kumiko the Treasure Hunter, a thoroughly oddball item of Fargo marginalia that, unlike its inspiration, has its roots in a quantifiably true story.
For Takako Konishi, a Japanese woman found dead in a Minnesotan field in 2001, read Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi), a bored Tokyo secretary whose obsession with a chanced-upon Fargo VHS leads her to jet off to the New World in search of the spot where Steve Buscemi buried his filthy (and, crucially, fictional) lucre. This Fargo is less a place than a state of mind: where Hawley punched up the connections between the Coens’ universe and the real world, the Zellners push towards long-take abstraction. One woman’s death is transformed into another’s death dream.
Your response to Kumiko may depend on the extent to which you feel it’s examining, rather than merely endorsing, its fragile heroine’s mindset. It’s a funny idea to have the locals – from a Jesus-flogging tourist info team to the deaf taxi driver carrying her into the wilds – feel like refugees from the original movie, certainly. Yet around the time a baffled if good-natured cop (played by the director) enters the picture, the indie-quirk approaches saturation point: you want him to dial out for psychiatric help, not take her to a Chinese restaurant.
Consolations include Sean Porter’s knowing framing – frequently alighting upon a swaddled Kumiko retreating into the snow – which provokes tiny frissons of déjà vu while offering its own distinctively chilly take on this expansive American frontier. And the sheer amount of concentrated trudging inherent to the scenario makes it a strangely effective showcase for the underemployed Kikuchi (Babel). Strange as it sounds – and is – Kumiko comprises a lingering display of empathy for its heroine, marching stridently on through her own peculiar headspace.
Kumiko the Treasure Hunter is now playing in selected cinemas.