I didn’t get a chance to watch the trailer for Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter. All I knew going in was that a good friend recommended it, and that it happened to be playing at the E Street Cinema in the city. Thinking I wouldn’t have another chance to see it for awhile, I got tickets and sat down not knowing what to expect. I was treated to a rare type of movie – quiet, beautiful and deeply impactful.
Kumiko follows the titular Kumiko, a Japanese woman who has trouble fitting in with her surroundings. As one of the older Office Lady’s at her work, she finds everyone asking her if she plans on getting married soon or pursuing a more fulfilling career. Kumiko seems disinterested in both, only caring for her pet rabbit Bunzo and an old VHS copy of Argo. She’s watched the copy to the point of destroying the tape in order to study and find the location of a buried suitcase of treasure, and after finding her time in Japan unsatisfying she boards a plane to the United States to search for her treasure.
First off, you do not need to be familiar with Argo at all to enjoy this movie; I still have not seen it, and everything relevant from the film is stated in Kumiko. This is a movie best enjoyed knowing as little as possible going in, so if you had any prior interest or this review has gotten you interested, I’d suggest you just go ahead and see it. Otherwise, I’ll continue on with what I enjoyed so much about the movie while trying my best not to spoil anything.
This is a movie about quiet moments and small gestures. Despite the grandiose “Treasure Hunter” in the title, Kumiko is at its best during the quiet in-between moments. The story closely follows Kumiko, played by Rinko Kikuchi in the first time I’ve seen her since Pacific Rim. Here, Kikuchi plays a character in the grips of depression, a far cry from the summer action movie stylings of Pacific Rim. All of her mannerisms contribute towards building a believable and lovable character, and she serves as the lynchpin of the entire movie. Other characters have smaller rolls to play, but all of the emotion of the movie comes with how they interact with Kumiko. Without the right fit of timidity, boldness and anguish, the movie would fall apart. Instead, you’ll be drawn in to Kumiko’s world along with her wants and needs. Characters during the film tell her that there is no treasure, that the movie she’s been following is a piece of fiction. Still, Kumiko presses on, and the audience cannot help but also hope that there is something out there in the frozen wasteland.
While the character of Kumiko does so much to make this movie stand out, it doesn’t hurt that the movie is absolutely beautiful to behold. The first portion of the film takes place in Tokyo, before moving to the cold north of Midwest America. The city is framed as Kumiko sees it – despite the large towers and busy streets, the camera focuses on Kumiko as she avoids others. One particular scene was probably the most visually appealing library I’ve ever seen in a movie, with winding steps and massive shelves contributing to the feeling of being small and insignificant. In America, everything is bigger – we pull back to see just how barren and empty the land is, though the people Kumiko meets here take up much more space on the screen and in the audience’s mind.
Finally, the score ties a neat bow on the overall package. There are many scenes here that aren’t frankly that interesting – Kumoko walks along in a big, open area. It’s here when the music takes over and adds to every shot. Stumbling in the woods in a storm is one thing, but hearing loud crashes and booming music help to hammer in how disoriented the character is. The score also knows when to slow things down, giving the audience a chance to zero-in on the small and seemingly insignificant.
Kumiko is one of my favorite movies I’ve seen this year. It’s not something that everyone will enjoy; many will find it slow, or wonder what the point is. But for those who take the time to let the movie sink in, to become a part of Kumiko’s world and try to understand what makes her search for this treasure, your reward will be an amazing film
Five bunzos out of five.