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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter movie review: Minnesota odd-yssey

Kumiko The Treasure Hunter green light

Weirdly funny and weirdly sad, one woman’s slo-mo nervous breakdown becomes an exercise in pathos that is unforgettably poignant.
I’m “biast” (pro): love Rinko Kikuchi

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.

See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter for its representation of girls and women.

green light 4 stars

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Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter (2014)
US/Can release: Mar 18 2015
UK/Ire release: Feb 20 2015

MPAA: not rated
BBFC: rated 12A (occasional bloody images)

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.

  • Danielm80

    This is one of those odd moments where I love the trailer so much I’m afraid to see the movie, because the film can’t possibly live up to it.

  • I haven’t seen the trailer, but the movie is wonderful.

  • Jenifer Merin

    Well said, MaryAnn. KUMIKO is a treasure from beginning to end. Reviews are embargoed in US until March. So I’m very glad your very excellent thoughts about it are
    available to readers.

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