Kumiko is strange and whimsical fare that delights, puzzles, and tears at your heart. Kumiko is a young Japanese woman who is socially withdrawn, barely making it at her job as office assistant, and spends a good deal of her time with her animals in a kind of fantasy land. The boundaries between reality and fantasy can get blurred for her, especially if she has a strong desire for something. She is both child and woman.
The American film by the Coen brothers, Fargo, has caught her fancy, and she becomes convinced that if she could just get to Fargo, North Dakota, she could find the case full of money that was buried in the snow by a criminal. Through underhanded means, she does indeed get to Minnesota, and instead of staying on a stalled bus some hundred miles from Fargo, she decides to walk out into the snowy weather and head there on foot. She is picked up a couple of times, but when she finds the other person is not going to take her to Fargo, she bolts.
Kumiko does reveal her plan to the second stranger, a policeman, who is generously buying her a warmer jacket and boots. He also gets lunch for her, and she tells him about her plan. Of course, he tries to help her distinguish between reality and movie fantasy, but as before, when someone questions her delusion, this time she quickly runs out and gets in a taxi.
She has encountered money problems and other difficulties along the way—and this taxi driver will get stiffed. One of her problems, which was occurring before she left Tokyo, was with her mother’s phone calls. It is probably not by coincidence that each time, just before she runs, she has had a conversation with her mom whose only interest seems to be for her to get married and have children. When she evades the subject, her mother quickly becomes abusive, telling her how worthless she is.
The story of Kumiko is engaging and fascinating in the way many art films are that move at a thoughtful pace, usually relate to mythological themes, and artistically express the visual and aural elements. I see Kumiko as going on the hero’s journey (Joseph Campbell)—usually undertaken by a male—in which he encounters many trials, and ultimately returns as a changed man who bestows boon on others. This story ends much more ambiguously, and we never learn whether Kumiko served that final function or not.
The brothers David and Nathan Zellner co-wrote and David directed this feature film that has a colorful, interesting and delightful tone to it, despite the trials Kumiko undergoes.
Much of the strength and appeal of the film comes from the star, Rinko Kikuchi (Pacific Rim, The Brothers Bloom) who was nominated by numerous organizations for her role in Babel. Sean Porter’s photography is outstanding, as, for example, in the beginning scene with the ocean, greenery, and a red-hooded figure walking along the beach, then later when Kumiko is in Minnesota walking in huge expanses of snow. The music by The Octapus Project is modern, with dissonant chords and harsh sounds, which may not please everyone’s ears, but it’s effective in what it is meant to convey.
An entertaining journey that will surprise and delight.
Grade: B By Donna R. Copeland