Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter (Amplify/Anchor Bay Entertainment, NR)

Kumiko 75The experience of the movie is intentionally, mundanely realistic much of the time.





Kumiko 500

After a mere two screenings at the Webster Film Series this past April, the 2014 Sundance hit Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter is being released to the home market on Blu-ray, DVD, and on demand. It is here that most people will see this, surely what will be one of the best films of the year, and while it’s a shame that more people weren’t able to experience this on the big screen, it’s a film well-suited to watching in the middle of the night while in a funky mood. And the Blu-ray looks good besides.

Kumiko is based on a not true story based on a not true story; that is, it’s based on the (proven untrue) urban legend of a Japanese woman who went to Minnesota circa 2001 to look for the treasure buried by Steve Buscemi’s character in the end of Fargo. Supposedly, the Japanese woman died trying to find it, and didn’t know that Fargo’s claim that it’s based on a true story is a ruse. Here Kumiko, the treasure-hunter in question (as the title implies), is played by Rinko Kikuchi, miles better than she was in her Oscar-nominated role in Babel back in 2006. Hopefully you get that the M.C. Escherishness of the plot points the film toward somewhere not terribly far from surrealism, though the experience of the movie is intentionally, mundanely realistic much of the time.

On the front cover of the Blu-ray release is a blurb from Werner Herzog: “A very beautiful, deep, and touching film,” he says. His name on the front is more telling about the nature of the film than one might expect. I has suspicions on my first viewing, which were confirmed when listening to the commentary track by director/producer/writers Nathan and David Zellner and producer Chris Ohlson, that the film is heavily influenced by Herzog’s films: Aguirre, the Wrath of God and Stroszek are both big reference points, and the Herzog filming method of longer-than-usual takes, no close-ups, and no coverage is heavily in evidence here. Cinematographer Sean Porter deserves a lot of credit for pulling off these long, sometimes complicated shots, which are rich with saturated colors (usually on Kumiko) and appropriately warm lighting, all the while not calling any attention to himself, like how any other cinematographer in his stead would have at every opportunity.

Speaking of the commentary track, there’s nothing terribly earth-shattering in there, but it will raise your appreciation for the film, like how a well-argued film review can. Meanwhile, though presumably unintentional, the commentary track itself maintains some of the weird vibes from the film—for example, partway through it the actress Yumiko Hioki, who plays Kumiko’s mother in the film, randomly (and presumably without any advance warning or planning) calls one of the Zellner brothers. They take the opportunity to invite her to tell of her experiences making the film for the commentary track, which she does on speakerphone in Japanese, and at some length, which no one ever bothers to translate in any way. In fact, prior to this the Zellners admit that they don’t speak Japanese, despite half of the film being set in Japan, so who knows if even they know what Yumi-san is trying to tell everyone.

Apart from the commentary, the only other special feature on the disc is seven minutes of “deleted and alternate scenes,” but again, these feel like someone having a larf. The seven minutes are composed of just three alternate sequences, two of which are presented as gonzo alternate endings. It’s all in keeping with the tone of this strange and wonderful film. | Pete Timmermann

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