Review: Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter


PLOT: A painfully shy Japanese woman named Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi) finds an old VHS copy of FARGO and becomes convinced that a real bag-full of money is hidden somewhere in Fargo, North Dakota.

REVIEW: KUMIKO, THE TREASURE HUNTER is better than it really has any right to be. It’s based on an urban legend, where a Japanese woman allegedly came to Fargo looking for the money and died in the process. The story has since been debunked (there really was a Japanese woman, but her trip and death had nothing to do with the movie FARGO) but why let the truth get in the way of a good story, right?


Certainly, this is an intriguing premise, made at least slightly convincing by the fact that FARGO began with a satirical “based on a true story” notice which, I suppose, could be misinterpreted by the naive or lost in translation. Rinko Kikuchi‘s Kumiko certainly is the former, or maybe even on the autism spectrum. She works an office job for a terribly paternalistic boss who lectures her on being unmarried at twenty-nine, which is treatment she also receives in repeated phone calls from her mother who wants her to move back home. Her co-workers despise her for the fact that she seems to want nothing to do with them. An encounter with an old friend on the street is painful to watch, with Kumiko freezing in terror when the friend asks for her cell phone number. The only relationship she’s able to maintain is with her pet bunny and the VHS copy of FARGO, which she watches over and over again in her cramped Tokyo apartment.

While not officially connected to either the Coen Bros film or the (great) new TV show, director David Zellner’s film seems like the kind of work that would have pleased the Coen Bros., and probably has their unofficial blessing as he was able to incorporate footage from the movie (it does at least have one strong champion in exec producer Alexander Payne). While probably low budget in that other than Kikuchi the cast is limited to unknowns, it certainly seems like a polished effort, with location photography in Tokyo for the first half and North Dakota for the second, along with strong wide-screen lensing and an excellent score by Austin band The Octopus Project.

More than anything this is a showcase for Kikuchi. Kumiko is a tough character who seems alien even in the early scenes in Tokyo. Once this awkward young woman starts dealing with the locals on her way to Fargo, she seems like a visitor from another planet, being barely able to communicate or relate to anyone else on a human level (not that she does any better in Japan). Her red jumper makes her look like Little Red Riding Hood. An interesting episode has her encounter a nice-guy cop (played by Zellner himself) who tries to gently convince her that FARGO’s only a movie (mirroring an early scene where a Japanese security guard tries to tell her the same thing). She so completely misunderstands his intentions and seems so utterly lost that her story, which initially came off as somewhat amusing, becomes increasing desperate and sad.

Certainly, KUMIKO, THE TREASURE HUNTER is going to be an acquired taste, but if you’re a fan of FARGO as a film or as a franchise (which – surprisingly – is what’s it’s become now) then this is certainly worth seeing. It’s an intriguing indie and certainly one-of-a-kind. But, more than that it’s also a reminder of how powerful films can be, and how they can often resonate with an audience in ways the filmmakers could have never intended.

Review: Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter




About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.