Saturday, 14 March 2015

Just watched: Kumiko the Treasure Hunter

My initial reaction to seeing this film was that it was exactly the kind of film that goes down well at festivals. It was nicely shot, with plenty of silent thoughtful bits where the audience can project their own ideas about the action onto what they’re seeing. Is Kumiko a fantasist? Having a mental breakdown? Or just plain stupid?

At the start of the film, Kumiko is working in a dead-end job at an office where no one appreciates her. So far, it’s not much different from a typical jdrama. Then she finds a VHS copy of the film Fargo (apparently in a cave, but this is never explained) and is convinced that, since the film is based on a true story, that the bag full of money hidden in the film by Steve Buscemi must also be true.

It’s based on an urban legend which grew up after a Japanese woman was found dead in a field near Fargo. And as you might expect from a film based on an urban legend, there’s not a great deal of characterisation. Kumiko’s English is poor, never getting much further than “I want to go... Fargo”

On the plus side, the film is as faithful to real events as it can be, and Kikuchi Rinko is sympathetic in the lead role, and watching her inevitable descent is pretty uncomfortable. I wanted her to ditch her job and look for treasure, but at the same time I wished she hadn’t.

It’s a blank canvas of a film. And not just because of the sparse dialogue and the snow white landscapes. It allows the viewer plenty of opportunity to read into the film whatever story they want. A story of doomed bravery? Or the dangers of cultural ignorance? On a board outside the screening room where I saw the film, the cinema had left a board for people to write up their impressions of the film. Among these messages was “I don’t see what’s funny about a woman having a nervous breakdown and dying of exposure!” which wasn’t what I got from the film at all.

So there you go. A film that depends a lot on the viewer to fill in its gaps. Which is no bad thing.