Rinko Kikuchi plays Kumiko, an introverted youngster, fed up of working in a dead-end job for a boss who undervalues her, and a mother who wants nothing more than to find her a husband. However Kumiko finds some hope in the form of a videotape, as she discovers a battered copy of Fargo buried under the sand. Unaware it’s a Hollywood production, she becomes transfixed by the scene when the briefcase of money is hidden in the snow, convinced it’s genuine treasure, still to be uncovered. So she sets off alone to the States, trying to find her way to Fargo and claim her reward.
With a premise not too far removed from the Oscar nominated Nebraska, it comes as little surprise to see Alexander Payne’s name appear as an executive producer. However despite Zellner’s accomplished, confident filmmaking, it just doesn’t quite have that same enchantment. In Nebraska you always cling on to the hope the ‘treasure’ exists, whereas you feel that Kumiko is merely chasing a lost cause. There’s a wonderful original score by The Octopus Project too, which encapsulates the moment perfectly and yet never feels manipulative. It’s tranquil and serene at times, though in others it grows increasingly dark and disturbing, echoing the journey of our protagonist. The film may have a dry wit prevalent, but essentially Kumiko is travelling alone on a misguided, deranged fantasy and it’s all rather distressing.
Though naturalistic, Zellner offers a heightened reality of sorts, as each character (in particular that of the local policeman, who Zellner plays himself) is equipped with their own unique quirks and eccentricities. Kikuchi is beguiling as our lead, as she’s endearingly hopeless, yet admirable in many ways as her naivety is so precious. Her take on cinema may be overstated, naturally, but it plays heavily on our own relationship with the art form, in how we seek escapism from movies, becoming enamoured with it and so immersed in it all. As such there’s a real poignancy to this, with something so distinctly tragic about this tale.
Meanwhile the way we perceive the world from Kumiko’s curious eyes is integral, particularly in her perception of America, which we see through the eyes of a tourist. Considered to be the home of independence, and yet the first image we see is a man with his kid on a leash. Everything seems to alien and overstated, in a role reversal to how Japan is often perceived (take Lost in Translation, for instance). To Kumiko everything is so simplistic and cinematic, as the idealist meets larger than life characters who resemble those from within the movie Fargo, as though she’s living out a film all of her own (minus the wood chopper).
David Zellner co-wrote the screenplay with his brother Nathan, as two brothers pay homage to two other brothers who know how to make damn good movies – and yet this holds its own, in what is a more than worthy effort. Plus, if you want to see a rabbit eating noodles then you’ve come to the right place.