Kumiko – The Treasure Hunter

This film moves me deeply. The vocal members of the audience I saw it with found it more comical or at least didn’t identify with the main character. Some despised her for her weakness or perceived mental illness. I don’t despise her and don’t regard her as mentally ill. I do regard her as desperate to the point of despairing hope. By despairing hope, I mean a hope that needs so much for something to be so that it abandons all evidence to the contrary. It’s an Asian film – I don’t mean in the obvious way – I’ve met or learned of many people like Kumiko in Asia. There’s an innocence and emotional vulnerability about them that is frowned upon in the West. Indeed, my main quibble with the film is the immaturity of its audience here; a film like this doesn’t, I feel more than insist, belong in American theatres. The giggles at emotionally vulnerable and therefore awkward moments weren’t just the 20-something hipster kiddies who got high and should probably be down the street watching a Disney cartoon. It was fairly general throughout the audience. If you want to be immersed in this, see it alone. The other quibble is the ending. I get it, but I’m not entirely pleased by it. What I think deserves deeper attention is something Kumiko keeps saying, that she is on the verge of a discovery. It’s certainly true, and it’s also the theme of the film. She is the treasure hunter, not because she’s searching for a bag of cash, but because she’s so convinced that in a life of stifling pettiness and parochialism, there must somewhere be a glowing wonder. There simply must be, and no amount of dissuasive reality will convince her differently. I once felt that way about love, and about meaning, and if that desperate hope doesn’t kill you, and you don’t abandon it, it may save you. I love her. I feel protective of her. I identify with her. And I feel I understand her. A film that can give me that, in any character, but especially one about whom it weaves a tale, has my appreciation.

As with most films I don’t dislike, I don’t ‘enjoy’ the film, I am moved by it. This film premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. An article about the source of the urban legend that inspired the story is here and the documentary is here. I saw this at IFC Center in NYC, where I’m now a member.