Living up to the expansiveness that its Sega Genesis-like title suggests, Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter’s action possesses that rare ability to take on a radically different meaning as its narrative unfolds. Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi) is an antisocial 29-year-old “office lady” in Tokyo, badgered by her boss and mother for being so “old” and having not yet found a husband. In her free time, she religiously studies a VHS tape (and, after it breaks, a DVD) of the Coen Brothers’ 1996 film Fargo in the hopes of locating the suitcase buried by Steve Buscemi’s character around the 60-minute mark. Her misinterpretation of the film’s “based on a true story” opening title runs deeper than a cutesy misunderstanding, for she believes herself to be a modern-day conquistador seeking “untold riches hidden deep in the Americas.”
Whether or not Kumiko is suffering from schizophrenia remains ambiguous, even as the symptoms of mental illness dramatically multiply after she arrives in “the New World” and starts heading for Fargo; her decision to use a stolen hotel comforter as a makeshift poncho, which grows ever filthier as she treks along the shoulder of I-94, is both practical and unsound. Yet she’s no less free as a homeless person in Minnesota than she was as an unmarried woman in Japan, which (along with her pre-Internet research methods) suggests that the film is in large part metaphorical. Meanwhile, Kikuchi’s superb, subtle performance grounds the film in reality. Choose your own adventure.