Kumiko The Treasure Hunter // Fish without water

Directed by David Zellner
Starring Rinko Kikuchi


It’s interesting that the title of the film labels her the Treasure Hunter, as if that is the only thing she is. She plays other roles but this is who she is. It may be easy to say that the film turns her into an archetype but because through Kikuchi’s brilliant performance as Kumiko, she escapes that fate and turns her character into somebody who is truly complex. I learned to care about her but I was also frustrated with her. I laughed at her but felt extremely guilty afterwards.

This is a character that lacks any sense of belonging. Her identity is so closely tied to that of the Treasure Hunter that when she has to be anything else but that, her soul recedes and we get nothing more than an empty shell. She is not alive when she has to become the Office Girl, the Obedient Daughter, the Old Friend From School, or the Tourist.

When she has to undertake these roles, her gaze is empty, she is mostly unresponsive and we can tell that the only thing she wants at that moment is to get back into her apartment and become Treasure Hunter once again.

The scenes of her interacting with other people provide both the funniest and the saddest moments in the film. You can tell that she desperately needs help. She doesn’t cry out for it and so no one answers. Her refuge is this one singular goal to uncover the buried money.

I didn’t understand at first why this money meant a lot to her. She doesn’t seem like the type who would go through all this trouble just to find money. I couldn’t believe that her happiness lies with something as meaningless as that.

The telephone conversations between Kumiko and her mother may reveal something about this. It is evident that she struggles to conform to the expectations the world and her mother has for her. During a heart wrenching scene, when Kumiko calls her mother from Minnesota and she excitedly tells her about her quest, that spark of joy quickly diminishes when the mother insists how futile all this is. Despite the fact we never see her mother’s physical presence on screen, only her voice and her words, we still feel her presence affecting Kumiko during the film.

I got the sense that there is an unfulfilled childhood. We see it through the costuming – a Little Red Riding Hood hoodie, and a quilt cape. Kumiko is playing out her childhood fantasy that managed to extend to her adulthood.

The money may be meaningless but it’s the act of finding it that matters a great deal to Kumiko.  In a sense, this isn’t just her search for treasure but it’s a search for her place in the world as an adult. The likelihood that this treasure may not exist at all is a heartbreaking thought to ponder.

This film is a testament to the power of imagination and the power of longing. These are what movies are made of and this is why Kumiko has such a deep connection with that money in Fargo. Imagination is what brings these stories and characters to life and then we sit through them sometimes longing to fall into the screen.

In a world that treats people like Kumiko cruelly, the ending of the film is absolutely necessary. Imagination is a powerful thing. This is a fish-out-of-water story but there isn’t really any water for her in the first place. She was out of place in Tokyo where she came from and in Minnesota where she travels.

Kumiko finds hers only in her mind and in fiction.  

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