The Zellner Brothers & Rinko Kikuchi talk about "Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter"

Kumiko is an outlier. Hood-up, head down, dismally ticking through days in Tokyo as an office assistant. She ignores her mother’s phone calls, attempts library theft and quietly spits in her boss’s tea. Her holy grail is far from Tokyo; it’s hidden an hour and thirteen minutes in the movie Fargo.

We watch her eyes glow inches from the television as she carefully traces the screen, calculating arbitrary distances between fence posts in an unidentifiable field of snow, as Steve Buscemi bloodily buries the infamous ransom money in the 1996 film noir.

The camera jumps from word to word of the pixelated glow of Fargo’s opening claim: “THIS IS A TRUE STORY.” We learned later that The Coen Brothers took fidelity into their own hands–that the story (and the snow-buried briefcase of ransom money) were indeed fiction. But to Kumiko, the grasp of treasure was not Hollywood but history: a veritable calling to go digging for treasure in the snow of North Dakota.

Milk Made caught the premiere of Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter and sat down with directors David and Nathan Zellner (brothers) and lead actor Rinko Kikuchi (2006 Academy Award nominee for Best Supporting Actress in Babel) to discuss fiction, reality and the meta-layers that fasten the two together.

The Zellner brothers began writing their script in 2002, just months after the news surfaced of 28 year-old Takako Konishi’s death. Her body was found in the woods of North Dakota after weeks of hunting for Fargo’s fictional treasure. The quest caught the attention of the Zellners, who were immediately swept away by the organic layers of intrigue this story held.

“We initially started writing it to satiate our own curiosity,” David explains. The idiosyncratic-quest turned to legend as the Zellner brothers drafted their script. “The epic, legend quality that seems so antiquated in the modern world was what really drew us to it. Over time, details conflicted with the legend, but the legend became more interesting.”

The movie dreamily transforms as Kumiko exchanges the doldrums of her life in Tokyo for treasure hunting. By the plastic power of her boss’ company card, Kumiko flies to America as a self-declared Spanish conquistador, donning a floral motel quilt for a poncho, and traipsing in and out of a true grip on reality. Rather than following true-to-news details, the Zellner brothers allow us to enter Kumiko’s mind and its tireless and uncompromising goal.

“We stuck to our version of reality,” David continues. “I might have been less interested in it if the truth was just laid out. When people do literal interpretations of stories, it’s not always any more truthful. Sometimes it can be much more false and empty. We wanted to embrace the legend but have truthfulness on a human level.”

Rinko Kikuchi’s acting holds intricacies that ceaselessly delighted the Sundance premiere audience, as she so vividly portrays the nuances of life alone.

“I love simple lines and showing through expression,” Kikuchi says. Having been only the fifth Academy Award actress to be nominated for a role in which she did not speak (Babel, 2006), Kikuchi’s ability to speak a character so wordlessly is brilliantly applied to her character in Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter.

“It’s so much more satisfying when you can convey things outside of talking,” David says, regarding Kikuchi’s acting. “She’s so great with her mannerisms and the physicality of her performance. [The details] are so much more interesting to watch.”

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter relives the quest of epics past under the modern spotlight of pop culture’s grip on our senses of reality. The Zellner brothers artfully brew layers of fiction and truth with the pervasive presence of Hollywood-invented culture. The film speaks not only to the power of true stories, but to the fiction by which they can be so brightly illuminated.

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