Kumiko The Treasure Hunter — a review

Wait, didn't Indiana Jones always say that 'X' never marks the spot?

Wait, didn’t Indiana Jones always say that ‘X’ never marks the spot?

Fargo is one of the best–if not the best–films made by the Coen Brothers. It’s a black comedy about murder and greed that takes place in Minnesota, a place known for its cheerful people and savage winters. It’s inspired a TV show based on the film on the FX Channel, as well as numerous other TV crime series and movies. Despite the solemn pre-credits explanation that Fargo was based on a true story, it was a work of fiction. In 2001, a young Japanese woman, thinking that Fargo was a true story, set out to find the suitcase loaded with money that Steve Busemi’s character buried in the snow by a fence at one point in the film (he did such a haphazard job in burying the cash that it would most likely have been discovered the next spring when the snow melted).

Rinko Kikuchi (Pacific Rim) stars here as a fictionalized version of the real life woman, whose name in the film is Kumiko, and she’s superb. Kikuchi plays her character as a young woman with a very tenuous grasp on reality who is slowly falling through the cracks. She works as an office girl in Tokyo for a lout of a boss who uses her to get his dry cleaning and other chores done. When he’s not using her as his personal slave, he ridicules Kumiko for being too old (she’s only twenty nine!), and introduces a new, younger assistant who will clearly take over Kumiko’s job. But the main thing that keeps Kumiko going is her obsession over finding the money that was buried somewhere in the snow laden fields of the U.S.

Hello? Can you two hear me down there? Just wave!

Hello? Can you two hear me down there? Just wave!

When her boss gives her a company credit card to buy his wife a gift with, Kumiko sees her chance to finally go to America and start her search. Kumiko The Treasure Hunter almost feels like a black comedy in tone, but the mood becomes somber when it’s made clear that Kumiko is a woman who is in serious need of help. Still, the filmmakers manage to take advantage of every comedic moment, and the result is a thoroughly fascinating film that’s anchored by a wonderful performance from Kikuchi. Despite her strange behavior, you can’t help but feel sympathetic for Kumiko, and that’s thanks to Kikuchi’s powerhouse acting. While Kumiko The Treasure Hunter makes for a great double bill with Fargo, it also stands on its own as a gripping look at the sometimes deadly consequence of obsession.

A Most Violent Year – a review

I'm gonna go beat some money out of a guy, you want anything?

I’m gonna go beat some money out of a guy, you want anything?

The winter of 1981 was known statistically as one of the most violent in New York City, and it’s in this time and place that the film A Most Violent Year is set. Oscar Issac and Jessica Chastain star as a husband and wife who are also the owners of a home heating oil business that’s seen a welcome surge in profits lately. Abel Morales (Issac) is trying to branch out by buying an oil storage facility with large storage tanks and direct access to the river, which will enable his business to grow even more. But just as he puts the down payment on this expensive property, a major problem rears its head.

Abel’s oil tanker trucks are being hijacked, their drivers left by the side of the road, usually injured. The hijackers are always two armed men who are well organized, and when the trucks are found again later, the oil–worth thousands of dollars–is gone. Abel is an immigrant who fought his way to success from his early days of being a tanker truck driver. He takes pride in the fact that, despite the shady mob connections that his wife’s family has, he has always been on the up and up. But on top of having his oil deliveries stolen, Abel’s company is also facing indictments from an ambitious New York City DA, and as he’s being squeezed from all sides, Abel discovers that being on the up and up may not be what it takes to stay alive anymore.

Directed in a slow burn style that keeps building its tension scene by scene, A Most Violent Year isn’t the typical over the top crime drama with people screaming at each other and guys going down in a hail of bullets. It’s a much more subtle story about corruption that depends largely on its brilliant script and superb performances from a marvelous cast. Issac is fantastic as a genuinely decent man who’s trying to keep it together underneath an unbearable amount of pressure, while Chastain (Interstellar) gives another great performance as his indomitable (and somewhat domineering) wife. Albert Brooks is also a standout as Abel’s lawyer and friend. Don’t miss it. –SF