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'Kumiko' - triple Fargo'd

Rinko Kikuchi as the title character in "Kumiko"
Rinko Kikuchi as the title character in "Kumiko"
Studio courtesy

"Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter"

Rating:
Star5
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In a minor but interesting coincidence, I saw a preview screening of "Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter" today, when the TV version of "Fargo" begins on FX (not part of my basic cable, alas).

"Kumiko," to be shown at the S.F. International Film Festival (http://www.sffs.org/festival-home/attend/film-guide/kumiko-the-treasure-...) is David Zellner's 2014 film, seen in the U.S. so far only at festivals.

"Babel" and "Pacific Rim" costar Rinko Kikuchi gives a memorable performance as a lonely social misfit Tokyo office worker, more than painfully shy - going from Asperger's to isolation to obsession.

The basic plot of this gripping, marvelously unpredictable, and moving film is Kumiko's increasingly self-destructive fixation on the Coen Brothers' 1996 "Fargo" and the suitcase of cash buried in the snow by Carl Showalter (Steve Buscemi).

She leaves a harrowing job and bothersome mother, even her adorable pet bunny behind, and travels to Fargo to find the treasure. The second half of the film is a bizarre, quirky road trip that will stay with the viewer for a long time. Both in Japan and in Minnesota, Kumiko's self-imposed isolation lifts the film above its comic-weird baseline into an evocative statement on the human condition.

Here are some facts about the story, which should have no bearing on experiencing the film; knowing this background is in no way a spoiler, may even make viewing more meaningful.

One justification of Kumiko's belief in the existence of the treasure is that "Fargo" opens with the statement that the film is based on true events. It took a long time and extensive research to establish that there have been no such events, and it's all fiction.

Next to that false claim is another twist of the facts: the Kumiko character is based on a real-life story about a 28-year-old Japanese woman, Takako Konishi, found in a woodland on a road between Fargo and Brainerd in 2001. A subsequent BBC Channel 4 documentary by Paul Berczeller traced Konishi's presence to her obsession with the treasure in "Fargo."

Twist No. 3: In 2003, Berczeller wrote an extensive article in "The Guardian" (http://www.theguardian.com/culture/2003/jun/06/artsfeatures1), following through every step of the story - and concluding that the "Fargo" obsession was a well-meaning collective fabrication.

I saw "Kumiko" in the morning and put together the background information by night, but nothing about the great impact of the affecting film has changed, nor did my appreciation for one of the rare films you can see never knowing what happens the next minute... or why.