Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter ★★★½

One of my favorite scenes in this film has got to be the one in which the compassionate policeman (played by the writer/director David Zellner) struggles to explain the nature of Fargo to Kumiko, and his explanation falls just as lamely on our ears as it does on Kumiko's, even though, of all the characters, the policeman is perhaps the character with whom the viewer will most closely identify: "You see, this is not real. It's just pretend. You know, like entertainment. It's not real like a documentary or news or a reality show or something. It's just, um, a normal movie."

Savvy viewers know, of course, that documentaries, the news, and forgoodnesssake, reality shows may have even less of the truth about them than so-called fictional films, and yet, in this scene, in spite of the lame explanation, we are, essentially on the policeman's side, if only because we have already assumed only heartbreak will be at the end of this film's story for Kumiko. We know better, we think: there is no way in this story there is going to be a suitcase full of money buried under the snow between two fence-posts somewhere near Fargo, North Dakota. And so Zellner seduces us into thinking we know something about the line between reality and fiction; we are drawn, inevitably, into the world of the film Kumiko Treasure Hunter, forgetting momentarily that, if it is fiction, anything could happen.

It's a rather wonderful premise, and I can't deny its basically effective execution.

Still, I wish that I had been left thinking more about Kumiko as a character/person than about the film's conceit, however much such a conceit attracts the cinephile soul. I could not really sympathize with or understand Kumiko's journey, why or how she could be so naive, even if, she is clearly a damaged, perhaps mentally ill, person. In a word, she frustrated me. It's telling that, like Fargo's Marge, I resonate and sympathize a good deal more with the policeman, who is really the writer-director, the one behind the scenes orchestrating it all, than with the protagonist treasure hunter. And ultimately, too, I can't help but feel that Kumiko's happiness in the end, as linked to money, is quite a cold and cynical point of view relative to human happiness. If heaven is just my pet bunny and showers of money, does that make the horror, damage, and loneliness of this life all worth while?

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