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With: Rinko Kikuchi, Nobuyuki Katsube, David Zellner, Nathan Zellner, Shirley Venard
Written by: David Zellner, Nathan Zellner
Directed by: David Zellner
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: English, Japanese, with English subtitles
Running Time: 104
Date: 03/18/2015

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter (2015)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Queen Fargo

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter, Oscar nominee Rinko Kikuchi (Babel) stars as the title character, a 29 year-old Japanese woman who works as an "office lady" for an uncaring boss and listens to assaults from her mother about being unmarried at her age.

She discovers an unmarked VHS videotape and watches it; it's the Coen brothers movie Fargo, which -- if you remember -- claimed to be a true story, even though it wasn't. She watches it and becomes obsessed with the image of Steve Buscemi burying a case of money in the snow by a fencepost.

She studies the tape until it breaks, obtains a DVD and continues until she has made a diagram of precisely where she thinks the treasure is. She steals her boss's credit card, and makes her way to North Dakota. She hasn't the faintest idea what to do once she gets there, but a helpful small-town cop (played by director David Zellner) and a nice old lady (Shirley Venard) help her out.

The filmmaker brothers David and Nathan Zellner strike a peculiar tone with this movie; it's muted and low-key, and it can be funny, but it's not exactly deadpan. It doesn't ridicule or take a snide, hipster stance. The widescreen cinematography is chilly and holds firm while Kumiko moves through this world.

Kikuchi's performance has been likened to acting from the silent era, and that description is apt. Her body language is somewhat exaggerated, but also restrained, constricted. She moves for the camera -- she has to, to complete her quest -- but she's so afraid of being noticed that she tucks herself into her body. It's a strange movie, and perhaps not all that easy to love, but if the filmmakers had gone straight for "lovable," then they might have ruined the unique spell they have cast.

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