Friday, April 3, 2015

‘Kumiko’ maintains ‘never lose sight of your dreams’

“Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter” (2014 production, 2015 release). Cast: Rinko Kikuchi, Nobuyuke Katsube, Kanako Higashi, Yumiko Hioki (voice), Ichi Kyokaku, Shirley Venard, David Zellner, Nathan Zellner, Brad Prather, Lucy Luu, Phil Hall, Steve Buscemi (archive footage). Director: David Zellner. Screenplay: David Zellner and Nathan Zellner. Web site. Trailer.

Dreamers often possess a special sensibility that sets them apart from others. They dare to envision what many would consider unfathomable, and they generally pursue the fulfillment of their aspirations with quixotic determination, usually in spite of what others say. They have faith in their convictions, moving ahead to flesh them out at all costs, even in the face of the worst odds. Such is the kind of resolve on display in the offbeat new comedy-drama, “Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter.”

Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi) is bored by her life. As a twenty-something Tokyo “office lady,” she sees herself stuck in a dead-end job. She quietly detests the demands and intrusiveness of her condescending boss, Mr. Sakagami (Nobuyuke Katsube), and the incessant phone calls of her nagging mother (voiced by Yumiko Hioki). She’s even loath to address such everyday activities as keeping up her apartment, collecting her mail or spending time with a onetime acquaintance, Michi (Kanako Higashi). In fact, the only things that seem to give Kumiko any pleasure are caring for her pet rabbit, Bunzo, and her pursuit of an unusual hobby – treasure hunting.

Treasure hunting?

Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi), a Tokyo “office lady” bored with her life, sets off to seek her fortune a world away in the quirky new comedy-drama, “Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter.” Photo by Sean Porter, courtesy of Amplify Releasing.

As unconventional as this rather anachronistic diversion might seem to many, it thoroughly captivates Kumiko. She devotes much of her free time to it, because she believes she’s destined to make great discoveries at it one day. And that commitment grows even stronger when she stumbles upon what she considers to be her greatest find – an old videotape that she’s convinced will lead her to a stash of untold wealth.

The video plainly states at its beginning that the story it’s about to relate is true, even if the names of those involved have been changed. As the film plays out, it clearly depicts someone burying a briefcase full of American money in a desolate Midwestern snowbank, its location marked with a small red ice scraper stuck in the endless mass of white. Tremendous riches obviously await.

So what’s the source of this miraculous revelation? It turns out to be a copy of the Coen Brothers’ Academy Award-winning movie, “Fargo” (1996), which is based on a true story but is, in fact, a fictional re-creation. Unfortunately, Kumiko mistakenly believes the film is a documentary because of its opening statement. She’s convinced the briefcase really is buried somewhere in the Midwestern landscape, and she spends hours trying to figure out exactly where.

As Kumiko’s obsession with finding the treasure grows, so, too, does her dissatisfaction with her everyday life, prompting her to eventually abandon everything in an effort to seek her fortune. Armed with her boss’s company credit card, a map of Minnesota and a steely resolve, she takes off on her quest. Like a Spanish conquistador, she heads for the New World – and an appointment with destiny.

Caring for her pet rabbit, Bunzo, is one of life’s few pleasures for Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi), a would-be fortune hunter bored with her existence, in the Zellner Brothers’ unusual new release, “Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter.” Photo by Sean Porter, courtesy of Amplify Releasing.

Upon her arrival in Minnesota, Kumiko is clearly out of her element. She speaks almost no English. She hasn’t packed suitable clothing for surviving one of the region’s infamously frigid winters. And she has only the vaguest of notions about where the alleged treasure actually might be buried (presuming, based on the film’s title, that it must be somewhere in the vicinity of Fargo). But those hindrances don’t deter her; she single-mindedly embarks on a trek into the Minnesota wilderness.

While on her journey, Kumiko encounters an array of colorful characters seeking to help her. Among them are a pair of dubious tourism guides (Nathan Zellner, Brad Prather), a kindly older woman who shelters Kumiko from the cold and is anxious to show her the Mall of America (Shirley Venard), a sincerely helpful though somewhat clueless sheriff’s deputy (David Zellner), a Chinese restaurant owner (Lucy Luu) and a deaf cab driver (Phil Hall). Despite their help, though, Kumiko must find her own way. It’s an odyssey she’s determined to see through – no matter what it takes.

Many might view Kumiko’s journey as a lonely one, but then that’s because it’s in the nature of what she seeks to materialize for herself through the conscious creation process, the philosophy that maintains we manifest the reality we experience through the power of our thoughts, beliefs and intents. As a would-be treasure hunter, Kumiko’s ambitions aren’t exactly mainstream, so the likelihood of her openly sharing this interest with others isn’t high. What’s more, given her disinterest in the everyday aspects of life that others so willingly embrace, it’s easy to see how she would eschew her peers and their concerns. Considerations like marriage and children, which are obviously important to Kumiko’s cohorts, just don’t matter to her, which is why she doesn’t devote time, energy or attention in drawing them into her life; those things would only get in the way of her trying to seek her fortune in other ways.

In light of that, Kumiko serves as a shining example of someone not being afraid to hold on to her dreams, no matter what others may think or how outlandish those aspirations might seem. As long as we have faith in the validity of our beliefs, as Kumiko does, anything is possible. And, as anyone who has achieved success under comparable circumstances can attest, realizing goals under such conditions can ultimately be transformative, even transcendent.

Upon her arrival in Minnesota, Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi, left), a would-be Japanese fortune seeker, encounters an array of colorful characters as part of her journey, including a pair of dubious tourism guides, Robert (Nathan Zellner, middle) and Brad (Brad Prather, right), in “Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter.” Photo by Sean Porter, courtesy of Amplify Releasing.

Of course, maintaining resolve is essential in taking on such pursuits, and seekers chasing such goals shouldn’t be afraid to reject outsiders’ calls for conformity or the criticisms of naysayers. Again, Kumiko shows us the way. She dismisses these considerations without reservation, remaining true to her vision as she forges ahead.

Given the foregoing, it’s obvious that pursuing our dreams requires effort and dedication, sometimes even sacrifice. Indeed, if we want to see such goals fulfilled, we must often let go of what no longer serves us or what holds us back. For things we dislike, such as unsatisfying relationships or possessions that weigh us down, letting go can be comparatively easy, even providing a welcome sense of relief. But realizing our aspirations may also occasionally call upon us to release things we hold dear, as becomes painfully apparent when Kumiko must decide what to do about Bunzo when preparing for her journey. Such heartrending experiences truly test our tenacity, but they’re often essential in determining the strength of our commitment and the degree of faith we place in what are supposedly our most cherished beliefs.

In that regard, proceeding without fear is crucial. When faced with the pressures of those who try to dissuade Kumiko from her course, such as her boss, her mother and even the well-meaning deputy, she remains steadfast, moving forward, no matter what impediments or forms of intimidation they try to place in her path. Onward she goes, rejecting these metaphysical speed bumps as little more than inconveniences along the way.

Ironically, by drawing such task masters into her life, Kumiko may actually have created an intriguing means for galvanizing her courage and her faith in her beliefs (even if she’s unaware of having done so). In fact, these are just a few of the many unconventional yet useful items she’s amassed in her metaphysical toolbox, which also includes such skills as the ability to think quickly and live by her wits, a strong sense of personal intuition, and receptivity to hidden meanings. (Even her choice of a rabbit as a pet reflects these qualities, as it’s an animal that is said to embody these wisdom teachings, according to the web site

When Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi, right), a would-be Japanese fortune seeker, finds herself out of her element in the wilds of Minnesota, she receives help from a sincere yet clueless sheriff’s deputy (David Zellner, left) in “Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter.” Photo by Sean Porter, courtesy of Amplify Releasing.

Keeping an open mind about the nature of the goal being sought is imperative, too. When we use our beliefs to create something, we should pay attention to the qualities that characterize the finished manifestation, not necessarily the form it takes. By failing to do so, we may not realize we’ve attained our objective when, in fact, we have. Treasures imbued with certain attributes can take a variety of forms, and, for her part, Kumiko fortunately realizes that. We’d be wise to follow her lead on this, especially when assessing the effectiveness of our own materialization skills. If we don’t, we might miss out on the wealth the Universe has in store for us.

“Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter” is one of the most unusual yet thoroughly enjoyable theatrical releases to come along in quite some time. The picture’s gorgeous cinematography and its ethereal soundtrack by the Octopus Project provide a beautiful, dreamy backdrop for a narrative that seamlessly blends gentle humor, touching moments and profound thoughtfulness. The film incorporates a variety of moods, from the homespun folksiness reminiscent of the picture that inspired Kumiko to the exaggeratedly noble campiness frequently found in contemporary samurai movies to the reflective sense of wonder often seen in spiritual cinematic offerings. But, as impressive as these elements are, it’s the Zellner Brothers’ superb writing and Kikuchi’s excellent performance that make the film work so brilliantly. And, despite a few easily overlooked pacing issues, few recent films capture and hold viewer attention as well as this one does.

The frozen Minnesota landscape can be a lonely place, as would-be fortune seeker Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi) discovers for herself in the offbeat new Zellner Brothers’ comedy-drama, “Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter.” Photo by Sean Porter, courtesy of Amplify Releasing.

The film has received some notable recognition for its efforts, too. It deservedly earned nominations in the best director and best female lead performance categories at the recent Independent Spirit Awards competition, as well as a number of accolades at various film festivals. The picture is currently showing in theaters specializing in independent and foreign cinema.

In a world where all too many are willing to aimlessly follow convention, it’s refreshing when nonconformists like Kumiko make their presence felt – and their wishes known. Were it not for enlightened spirits like her, there’s no telling how much “smaller” our world would be. So thank goodness for the dreamers out there – and the hope that they all might help to inspire the rest of us.

Copyright © 2015, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

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