It all started with a mysterious VHS tape found buried on a beach.
Kumiko, a Japanese woman working a dull desk job, obsesses over the tape, which is none other than an old, jumpy recording of a movie most people around here are quite familiar with: “Fargo.”
But, as seems to be the trend, Kumiko never actually makes it to Fargo. Sorry for the spoiler, but you had to see that coming.
Based on an urban legend and a true story, “Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter” premiered last Saturday at the Fargo Theatre as part of the 15th annual Fargo Film Festival. The house was nearly full, and hundreds of moviegoers were anxious to see this highly acclaimed film, which was a fitting wrap-up to the Saturday afternoon session.
Written, directed and produced by the Zellner Brothers, starring Rinko Kikuchi and featuring a score by electronic band The Octopus Project, this film is a triple threat, with good writing, acting and music.
Filmed on-location in Tokyo, Japan and Minnesota, it focuses on a 30-something-year-old who is less than satisfied with her life. It compares and contrasts the two cultures: the plentiful skyscrapers and busy life of Tokyo and the open spaces and rural life of Minnesota.
With stunning cinematography, this film is a visual masterpiece. Kumiko, standing out from the background in her bright red coat, is reminiscent of Little Red Riding Hood as she walks through the snowy forests and fields. Along the way, she meets eccentric characters that are all too familiar for people from Minnesota.
But as we watch the world change from Kumiko’s point of view, the scenes that seem so normal to Midwesterners take on a different feeling. Through her strange experiences, the surreal visuals and the dramatic score, we are taken to a different world – one where we hope that the impossible just might come true.
While it has moments of comedy scattered all the way through, this movie is not a feel-good family film. It may not be explicit, but the tension that comes from watching Kumiko become more and more unhinged is unsettling. It is the type of story that cannot easily be predicted, but rather takes the audience through a series of events that continue to challenge expectations of what movies should be like.
The score in itself is unique, with some songs incorporating Japanese instruments and others with ringing, ethereal, electronic white noise that would normally be in a science-fiction film.
If there is anything this film reinforces, it must be this idea that Fargo is a mythical place that simply cannot be reached. Of course, we who live here know that is not true. But even in this film, “Fargo” continues its legacy of turning its namesake into a sort of Midwestern Shangri-La.