"Fact or Fiction?"
What You Need To Know:
It’s hard not to enjoy the charm and humor of this movie. Kumiko is a very likable character. The funny moments are grounded in reality, making them personable and genuine. However, the story is a bit too outlandish. Also, the ending is ambiguous and confusing, feeling like a cop-out. With only one obscenity, the movie’s morally questionable content is mostly miscellaneous. Kumiko prefers to be honest, but finds herself stuck in situations leading her to lie, cheat or steal to achieve her goal. Because of this, MOVIEGUIDE® advises caution for KUMIKO, THE TREASURE HUNTER.
(RoRo, B, Ho, L, V, D, MM) Strong Romantic, idealistic worldview where reality is ignored and fantasy becomes an obsession, with some moral elements as a traveling woman is helped by several strangers who care for her, plus a woman’s boss asks her if she’s homosexual because she’s not married; one “s” obscenity; man seen to have bloody face and hands in a fictional movie scene; no sex; no nudity; no alcohol; brief cigarette smoking; and, woman steals book from library but is caught, security guard tears page from library book and gives it to a woman, woman bribes a security guard to help her steal, woman picks up boss’s suit from the cleaners and throws it into the trash out of spite, woman makes tea for her boss and spits in it, woman abandons her pet rabbit in the subway, woman steals her boss’s credit card and uses it for her own expenses, woman steals bedspread from hotel room, woman leaves hotel without paying for her room, woman takes a cab and doesn’t pay, and woman lies to her mom about her job.
KUMIKO, THE TREASURE HUNTER is about a young Japanese woman who goes searching for the hidden money in the fictional movie FARGO. Kumiko seems delusional, or is she? After all, a title card at the beginning of FARGO says it’s based on a true story.
A 29-year-old office lady, Kumiko lives alone in Tokyo. While strolling along the beach one day, she uncovers a wet and sandy VHS tape of the movie FARGO. She takes it home and becomes fascinated with the scene where a briefcase full of money is buried in the snow along a fence in the middle of nowhere. Believing the movie to be real (the beginning of the movie says it’s based on a true story), she obsessively watches that scene every night and starts taking notes for any possible clues to where the money’s located. She even goes so far as to stitch a map in some fabric.
Kumiko is desperate to create a better life for herself. Her apartment is small and cluttered, with only her pet rabbit Bonzo to keep her company. Every day she goes to work in an office where she makes tea for her uncaring boss and runs errands for him in addition to her secretarial duties. In her late twenties, she’s older than the other office ladies and has failed to live up to the social expectations that she should be married by now with a family. Kumiko’s mother almost constantly berates her for not having a husband, and her friends with their children make her feel ashamed of her status. Yet, she feels she has a different path in life, and it quite literally takes her on a journey to another country, the United States.
With her boss’s company credit card in hand, Kumiko leaves behind everything (including Bonzo) and flies to Minnesota, where she’s greeted by Midwestern hospitality. She asks everyone she meets how to get to Fargo, but they all tell her that’s the last place she wants to go in the dead of winter. Slowly, she makes progress toward her destination, until a policeman, who tries to make her understand the events in the movie aren’t real, shelters her. She refuses to believe him, however, and eventually makes it to Fargo, determined to find her buried treasure.
It’s hard not to enjoy the charm and humor of this movie. Despite some of her actions, Kumiko is a very likable character. Her pet rabbit, Bonzo, brings out the tender side that she hides from everyone else. The funny moments are grounded in reality, making them personable and genuine. Some are even Chaplinesque, such as a scene portraying the drawn out ordeal of unfolding a map that doesn’t want to cooperate; something that many people have experienced. One thing’s for sure: Kumiko isn’t the brightest person to walk the earth, and there are some instances where viewers will wonder if she should be walking around at all. On several occasions, for example, it’s easy to think she may be suffering from a mental illness or handicap that makes her unable to follow common sense.
Thus lies the inherit problem with the movie: the plot is so outlandish that one might have to be mentally unstable himself to understand it. [SPOILERS FOLLOW] The ending is especially confusing because Kumiko actually finds the buried money just as it was hidden in the fictional movie. Without explanation, it’s difficult to know whether she has died in the winter wilderness, and this is some sort of afterlife experience, or if the past two hours have been spent in the “Twilight Zone,” where fiction and reality are blurred. Be that as it may, the last scene feels like a cop-out for writers who don’t know whether to allow Kumiko to succeed or fail. Viewers may have to decide for themselves.
With only one “s” obscenity, any questionable content in KUMIKO, THE TREASURE HUNTER is mostly of a miscellaneous immoral nature. Kumiko prefers to be honest, but she finds herself stuck in bad situations that lead her to lie, cheat or steal in order to come out unscathed. With no money to speak of, she uses her boss’s credit card to pay for a plane ticket to the U.S. and other expenses such as a hotel room and food. When her boss puts a hold on his card, she’s left with nothing and resorts to stealing. Her character is so likable, though, it’s hard not to feel more compassion toward Kumiko than contempt or disgust. That said, her immoral actions warrant a caution for KUMIKO, THE TREASURE HUNTER.
By the way, the urban legend that inspired the movie was based on the story of a Japanese woman in her late 20s named Takako Konishi, who was found dead in Minnesota in 2001. However, Takako Konishi didn’t travel to the United States to find the FARGO buried treasure, but to kill herself because her banker boyfriend who abandoned her was from Fargo.