Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter, tells the story of a young woman on a quest to find the briefcase of money shown being buried along a fence line in the movie Fargo. Intertextuality at its finest, right? Actually, no. Turns out the movie is based on a true story. Sort of anyway. According to the Wiki entry for Takako Konishi, whose name sadly includes the parenthetical description “office worker,” was “found dead in a field outside Detroit Lakes, Minnesota on November 15, 2001.” “Konishi,” the entry continues, “had originally arrived in Minneapolis earlier that month, traveled to Bismarck, then to Fargo, and finally to Detroit Lakes, where she died. Her death was ruled a suicide, but it was insinuated by the media that she had died trying to locate the missing money hidden by Steve Buscemi’s character, Carl Showalter, in the 1996 film Fargo, under the impression that the film was based on a true story.” Like many folk tales, the urban legend surrounding Takoko Konishi helps explain a story that is otherwise baffling. Who was this woman, and why did she travel all the way from Japan only to die in a desolate region of Minnesota?
From this genesis, the Kumiko film makers depict Kumiko as a sort of Kafkaesque anti-hero while developing a back story and filling in the details of her personality sufficiently to function as a character study. The brilliance of the film is that it does so with an extreme economy that puts the entire weight of the film squarely on Rinko Kikuchi’s shoulders. Rinko Kikunchi plays the title character, Kumiko. The only film I had seen her in previously is Pacific Rim, and while Pacific Rim is a great movie, and she does a fine job in it, after seeing this film, I can’t help thinking, wow, who knew? She’s given very little dialogue, has limited interaction with the other characters in the film, and is shown for the most part simply moving from one place to the next. In the hands of a lesser actor, this movie would have been impossibly boring, and the film is worth watching for her performance alone.
So previously I called Kikunchi’s character a Kafkaesque anti-hero. The “Kafkaesque” part comes about from her situation. Muck like Gregor, Kumiko has been de-humanized and reduced to a state where she is simply a burden to those around her. Her boss reminds her that most office girls who have reached her age (she’s twenty-nine) will have either gotten married and started a family or advanced to a higher stage in their careers. He treats her contemptuously, sending her to complete menial tasks and bringing in a young, fresh-faced replacement to illustrate who exactly she is standing in the way of. Kumiko’s mother reinforces this shame, calling her on the phone to ask whether she has gotten a promotion yet or been dating anyone and offering not the slightest bit of encouragement. Even her old friends, who appear well-meaning, only serve as a painful reminder of her inadequacy as they have achieved the things Kumiko herself has not.
Unlike Gregor, however, Kumiko finds in her watching of Fargo a purpose that, as illusory and absurd as it is, nevertheless motivates her to embark on a long and difficult journey requiring a dedication and resourcefulness that in itself is admirable. She finds a way and manages to keep going much further (and farther) than one would have expected, and lest we judge her too harshly, it’s worth remembering that none of us in fact can know with certainty that the things motivating us have meaning beyond a scene from the movie Fargo; we can only hope and/or rely on faith.
I have to admit, this theme resonates with me a lot. If it weren’t for my family, I basically am Kumiko, except (hopefully) less delusional. I’ve never felt so much inadequate as simply unfulfilled, unmoored, and unable to be content and at peace with a life and set of circumstances that clearly are blessed. Everyone needs a sense of purpose, a reason to get out of bed in the morning–something to motivate us to continue the monotony and repetition of our daily routines, whether it is simply through the acceptance of those around us or through the will to power that drives people to become leaders of nation states. Those who lose that sense of purpose or find it is lacking will look for ways to fill the void, be that searching for non-existent treasures in the barren, frozen wastelands of Minnesota or writing blog entries for a non-existent readership. They are all delusions, but some have significantly higher consequences than others. I would recommend this movie to those who have ever felt the pang of existential angst (and really, who hasn’t). I would also recommend finding someone who can help you fill your own void by, you know, playing board games with you or reading your blog entries. (Thanks, babe.)