DIR: David Zellner • WRI: David Zellner, Nathan Zellner • PRO: Jim Burke, Andrew Banks, Cameron Lamb, Chris Ohlson, Nathan Zellner• DOP: Sean Porter• ED: Melba Jodorowsky • MUS: The Octopus Project • CAST: Rinko Kikuchi, Nobuyuki Katsube
Kumiko, a lonely office worker in Tokyo, has little interest in anything in her life, apart from treasure hunting. This is established right from the beginning when, with no dialogue and minimal music, the young woman finds an old video cassette in a cave, a copy of the classic Coen Brother’s film Fargo. This proves to become the sole purpose of her existence, as she becomes obsessed with finding the case full of money hidden in the film.
Based on the urban legend surrounding the death of Takako Konishi, Zellner’s film excellently conveys the sense of confusion and mystery which still surrounds the event. Having lost her job as an office worker in Tokyo, Konishi travelled to Minnesota, where she was later found dead in a field. Eventually, the media began to fuel the fire for a story that alleged that she had travelled to America to find the briefcase shown in the film, whose opening titles wrongly claim that the events in the film are true.
Rinko Kikuchi’s understated lead performance is fantastically effective, making the audience care for the character, yet restraining the character enough so that the audience struggles to fully embrace her, always feeling like we’re being kept at arm’s length. The film is a great example of style over substance: while many may find very little happens in the film, there is no denying that the technical aspects, in particular the cinematography and soundtrack, add most to the film.
The cinematography throughout is truly a thing of beauty, with the minimal use of dialogue being fantastically complimented by the magnificent shots. The majority of shots throughout are very close, really absorbing the viewers into the conversations the characters are having when dialogue is used. The atmosphere of the film is an enchanting blend of comedy and drama, with both complementing the other perfectly. There are two key conversations in the film that show both these aspects. First is her talk with the security guard at the library, with whom she pleads to be given just one page from the map book she attempted to steal earlier. This is in direct contrast to when she arrives in America, and is whisked into an office, not realising that both men are part of a religious group.
The use of music or, rather, lack of it, throughout is very effective, and adds to the moody and dark atmosphere from start to finish. ‘The Octopus Project’ excellently meld their music into the scenes all through the film. The soundtrack interestingly reflects the camera work throughout. For example, there are some extraordinary uses of close-up throughout, one such example being when Kumiko is waiting in a café for her friend. As the camera zooms in unusually close, the music builds and builds, almost becoming unbearably loud at times. This technique is used throughout to enhance the atmosphere, like towards the end, when the beautiful shots of scenery is complimented by minimalistic music.
Overall, the film is a tour de force in filmmaking, one which is even more startling, given the fact that the scenes in both Japan and America feel incredibly authentic. The fact that Zellner managed to keep two crews situated so far apart in perfect harmony with the films overall direction is an achievement in itself. However, sometimes the central character can be quite hard to connect with. She is isolated in a world she feels she doesn’t belong in. When her Mum contacts her, it is only to ask if she has got married yet, showing the pressures society is weighing down on her. Yet, when offered help, she seems to do nothing but push others away. From the elderly woman who stops to give her accommodation when she is out in the cold, to the policeman (played by David Zellner himself) who goes completely out of his way to help her any way he can, she is bafflingly cold to those who try to help her.
Nonetheless, in terms of technical achievements, like cinematography and soundtrack, this is a film well worth investing time in.
Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter is released 20th February 2015