A few weekends ago, I went to the Amherst Cinema to watch Kumiko the Treasure Hunter, a 2014 film written by the Zellner Brothers and starring Pacific Rim and Babel actress, Rinko Kikuchi. The movie centers on a Japanese 29-year-old woman named Kumiko, living alone in Tokyo and working among younger women as an office lady – a secretarial/clerical position specific to certain East Asian countries that young women usually leave once they marry. She is reserved, unsociable, and incredibly alone. Her mother constantly calls and tells her to come live back home in order to save money for marriage and berates her for not being married, not getting promoted, and so forth. Her only companion is a rabbit named Bunzo and her one goal in life has nothing to do with romance or work. Kumiko compares herself to Spanish conquistadors – she wants to find treasure. Using an old VHS tape of the film, Fargo, she becomes obsessed with finding the briefcase of money that Steve Buscemi’s character, Carl Showalter, hides in snowy Minneapolis.
The film makes sure to focus in on the beginning frame of Fargo – text that claims it is a true story. The, “THIS IS A TRUE STORY.” portion of the text also prefaces the film, alluding to the fact that it was indeed based off a true story.
Kumiko believes Fargo to be real and has a journal of extensive notes on how to find the supposed treasure. It is the one thing she devotes her life to.
After a series of events where she is faced with her loneliness and stagnant lifestyle, she decides to leave for America – specifically, Minnesota to get to North Dakota. Her English is extremely limited – “I want to go … Fargo”
She meets people along the way who have good intentions, who want to help, but she is still unable to form relationships or connections. It becomes clear that her singular obsession with her “destiny” becomes both the reason for her isolation and her escape from her isolation.
So when we discuss media consumption and the stigma that people who indulge in media are loners – what comes first? The consumption or the isolation? Do people (specifically addicts of television, video games, etc.) become obsessed with forms of media because of an inability to cope with society or does the obsession cause an inability to cope with society?
Obviously there is no one simple answer for all cases but I found it a fascinating question that the film never quite answers. Along her journey, Kumiko occasionally attempts to reach out to others – a policeman, her mother – only to be shut down. Is this because she’s lost all ability to connect with people or is it the problem with others?
While I can’t say it was an absolute must-see movie, I think it raises interesting questions on the internal and external influences and consequences of loneliness, particularly when media consumption becomes involved. Back in Japan, Kumiko does not tell anyone about her quest, except for the security guard of a library and that is only because she attempts to steal a book. Thus, the people who know her back home do not immediately dismiss her as strange or mentally ill. In the States, however, everyone Kumiko tells about her quest treats her as childish or crazy. Obviously, being obsessed with a fictional film signals an unfamiliar sort of instability.
My favorite line comes from an old woman who picks up Kumiko off the Minnesota highway; she says, “Solitude is just fancy loneliness.” Can a line be drawn between self-inflicted isolation and externally-forced isolation? Where does one end and the other begin?