I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
Is Kumiko an oddball nonconformist? Is she mentally ill? Or is she suffering from a slow-motion nervous breakdown that is a perfectly reasonable response to the unreasonable pressures she is under? As we ponder, throughout the film, an unanswered question posed in the opening scene, when the solitary Tokyo resident (Rinko Kikuchi: Pacific Rim) digs up a strange bit of “treasure” from a beachside cave, the mystery of Kumiko only deepens, and in every instance when we think we’ve grasped a clue, it slips away from us. Inspired by an urban legend of a Japanese woman’s puzzling journey to Minnesota, this is a weirdly funny and weirdly sad odyssey of a woman crumbling under the sexist pressure she is subjected to from every angle: her “office lady” job apparently codifies and requires demeaning harassment; her mother regularly phones her to demand to know when Kumiko is getting married. The specific form her collapse takes involves an obsession with the movie Fargo, and American indie director David Zellner (who wrote the script with his brother Nathan) lets his film drift into almost David Lynch-ian territory once Kumiko arrives in the snowy Midwest; her first encounter when she gets off the plane dunks her right into eccentric Americana, and of course Fargo is now an indelible part of the mystique of the region, if it can be said to have a mystique at all. At some point — though we can’t really be sure where — Kumiko’s quest passes into fantasy, but pinpointing where is an exercise in pathos that is unforgettably poignant.