Kumiko The Treasure Hunter is a 2014 movie that deconstructs the idea of adventurer, think Indiana Jones, by setting it in the modern day. The story revolves around Kumiko, a woman who longs for a life other than the one she has. She works, rather reluctantly, as an office girl with no real plans to advance into another position or quitting to settle down and start a family. Her nights are spent watching the movie Fargo and taking copious notes on the location of the money buried by Steve Buscemi’s character. Eventually she journeys to Minnesota to find the buried treasure.
Everything hangs on the idea that Kumiko believes, based on the opening text in Fargo, that the events depicted in the movie are real; that the money is still out there to be found. It’s a premise you either buy into or you don’t. Personally, I bought in for a number of reasons. The first being that things played completely straight. There is no winking at the camera or mocking tone to the film that challenges or undercuts the reality of the world we are in. This is a very real drama about one woman who does not feel she fits into the world around her and is looking for a life of adventure.
Second, there is no judgement of Kumiko or her actions. She is not an eccentric who lives in a fantasy word nor is there any indication that there is a mental health component that explains/justifies her actions. Her struggles are relatable; job dissatisfaction, general boredom and no desire to follow a traditional path to marriage and kids. (Much to the dismay of friends and family.)
Lastly, there is a scene early on in the movie where Kumiko attempts to steal a book from the local library. In the book is a map she needs of Minnesota. When questioned by the security guard as to why she stole the book she says that she, like the conquistadors, is searching for a lost treasure and needs the map to find it. This moment sets the tone because it puts us inside Kumikos head. The conquistadors went to the new world (America) in search of cities made out of gold and the fountain of youth. Wondrous marvels that could provide untold riches. Things of legend and lore that others many may have called them crazy for believing in but the conquistadors went searching nonetheless. This is how she sees herself.
The movie is very cleaver in how it explores the adventurer archetype. When we think of an adventurer, like Indiana Jones or Lara Croft, we would say that they are attractive, smart, resourceful, brave and above all single. Kumiko is not unattractive by she is not young or sexy as the movie points out when she is given the job of training a new office girl. She is smart and resourceful as we see through the film. From the way that she takes notes on the location of the money to how she “funds” her trip to Minnesota. While Kumiko is a timid character she is brave enough to to push on through the tough times during her journey.
Kumiko goes through the motions of an adventurer like stealing needed information, bribery, saying goodbye to loved ones, interacting with the locals and getting the guy. For example when she tries to steal the book the security guard asks her why she did not just make a photo copy of the page she needed. Her response is to bribe the guard with what little money she has. Kumiko is so desperate for the adventure that she pushes ahead with the tropes that has been laid out in so many adventure stories despite the reality of her situation. (The scene has a great ending that I won’t spoil.) Like with any adventure film all of her actions have varying degrees of success but instead of explosions and chase scenes there a silences and Kumiko simply running away.
Whether this works across the board or it simply resonates more with me as an American, it was really eye opening to see my country as the exotic location. So often we romanticize other places, like the jungle or the dessert, as places where there are still secrets to be found because of their unwelcoming or difficult terrain. Minnesota is no different. Kumiko arrives in the middle of winters and, like any good adventurer, travels deeper into the unwelcoming rural environment. It was nice to see the place I live as a place of unexplored treasures while at the same time really bringing a different perspective to the adventurer. It would be as much an adventure for me to travel to Japan as it is for Kumiko to come to America and yet because we live in our respective locations we feel as though we know the place and it holds to mysteries for us. There is also the added commentary of what it means to interact with the locals.
The last thing that I will say about this movie is that it carries of the conquistador theme all the way to the end. This is a smart and wonderful film that I strongly urge people to check out. It is currently available to stream for Amazon prime members.