Film Review: Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter

Kumiko the Treasure Hunter
Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter is an interesting character study of someone going insane, but its pitch black humor can’t overcome the often abstract nature of the film.

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter is a weird movie. Weird movies are often great, and there are some great weird moments in Kumiko, but the film gets so lost in its protagonist’s worldview that it is hard to enjoy the film. I found myself getting frustrated with the film as much as I was getting frustrated with the character of Kumiko. Kumiko is an unmarried office clerk in Japan, constantly being hounded by her mother to either find a man or move home, often talked down to by her boss for being a blah presence, and is about as antisocial as one can get. Kumiko seems like she barely even gets along with her pet rabbit Bunzo, who I found myself more attached to than our lead. So when Kumiko’s obsession with the buried treasure in Fargo takes her all the way to Minnesota in search of it, I feel like I should be on board with this film more.

But I am oddly not.

There are a lot of things I like about Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter. The film’s opening scene is beautifully odd, fantastical and wonderfully (probably) dream like. Kumiko’s deadpan interactions with “friends” and people trying to help her had me laughing on multiple occasions. Rinko Kikuchi is fantastic as our mentally ill hero. And Bunzo, I mean, Bunzo is great. But something keeps all of these things from coming together.

The Zellner Bros. do a wonderful job of structuring and shooting the film. It is an often gorgeous portrait of both Japan and Minnesota. Like I mentioned above, a number of the bits and jokes that are laid into the picture got me to laugh, so the script seems to be working as well, so what is holding me back on this film? I just think Kumiko’s journey is just too messed up and depressing for me to get behind. Mistake after mistake she makes, all in the name of something so profoundly stupid, I just couldn’t give myself over to all the wrong decisions. It all seemed so pointless, and that is sort of the point, but there was no room to appreciate this adventure towards nothing.

Rinko Kikuchi deserves another shout out before wrapping this all up. As she really is something to see in the movie. The character might often frustrate you, but that is squarely because Kikuchi does such an amazing job at creating this character. She makes so much out of mostly one move with Kumiko, the depth to the simplicity of the exterior of the character is mighty impressive.

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter is a well shot and acted film, that has a really interesting story conceit. The filmmakers ability to find humor in this dark descent into mental illness is laudable, but that mental illness keeps one at an arm’s length from really being able to go along with Kumiko and her mission. A film that doesn’t add up to the sum of its parts, Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter might be worth watching once if the premise is at all interesting to you, but know that the film is very difficult to get into and appreciate what good it has to offer.

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