The titular character of Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter is right on the edge. She manages to hold down a job, somehow, but is otherwise utterly withdrawn, with no friends save her rabbit, Bunzo (THE CUTEST), and no ambition in her career as a secretary/clerk/“office lady.” Her single obsession is with decoding a particular scene in 1996’s Fargo—the part where Steve Buscemi buries the suitcase full of money—for the purpose of locating and claiming said suitcase and cash.
Of course, there is no suitcase and no money; we know that. Everyone knows that. But Kumiko doesn’t. Somehow. As we watch Kumiko struggle through daily life, growing ever more obsessed with Fargo and the money, it’s clear that things will get much worse before they get better. (Mostly, they don’t get better.)
True to its Coen brothers inspiration, this film is a dark comedy (of sorts), humor and awkward moments and desperation blending together. But while most Coen brothers films have a touch of the absurd, Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter is firmly planted. So when things start going really downhill after Kumiko reaches Minnesota, there’s no real reprieve from it—no absurdist deus ex machina here.
Things start, actually, to take on the texture of a horror movie. The sound design and score does a lot of the work here, with walls of noise and dissonance crescendo-ing (if that is a word that can be verbed) to match (one assumes) Kumiko’s internal scream. The people, too, seem barely trustworthy—or maybe that’s the bass drone, I dunno. The deaf taxi driver that Kumiko meets comes to mind; he smiles too much in a David Lynch kind of way, and his attempts to make small talk with Kumiko come off slightly sinister. But really, there’s no twist here; he’s not going to feed Kumiko into a wood chipper; he’s just a deaf taxi driver that she ends up stiffing of a hundred bucks.
But all that is only obvious after the fact. Like how there’s no suitcase full of cash—a fact that one might conveniently forget while watching Kumiko go about her business. The film’s strength is in how fully her persona permeates everything; it doesn’t mock her tragic obsession, though it would be easy. We have the agency to walk away, but still, the film encourages the audience to believe in the treasure just as much as Kumiko does. For a little while, there is a suitcase.