I see what The Verge is getting at in their review of Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter, but for the duration of the film, I just could not get past Kumiko’s central obsession; in an otherwise thoroughly grounded narrative, her irrational behavior just feels utterly implausible, not even surreal, and undermines the film for me. It just feels like I’m watching someone who’s lost her grip on reality in a peculiar, particular way for the entire 1.75 hours, which was indeed visual immersive but psychologically shallow.
Recently, The Making of a Story reminded me that narratives transpire “…in the sensory world, and in a world that embraces a complex emotional and intellectual subtext.” The sensory world is well developed in Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter, but that fails to bring me into the subtext. Clearly subtext lurks in the film, as The Verge has nicely described, but I’m so distracted by the protagonist’s mentally unhinged nature, the subtext remains uninteresting or at least obscured. When I can finally let go of the strangeness of Kumiko’s (delusional) quest, all I’m left with is a woman utterly stifled in a constrictive modern society, seeking freedom and self-sufficiency, finding those in the end when she and the film finally fully cross from reality into fantasy. Kumiko is the caged rabbit now released, unsuited to deal with world outside—until it can be remade by the sheer force of her desires?
The only thing that kept the story somewhat intriguing to me are the opening scenes, where we see that Kumiko has been at this treasure hunting for some time. Glimpses of her notebook full of memos and maps tell us that what’s she’s doing during the film is part of something larger, and just what has she been piecing together in that notebook? What led her to that cave and the buried VHS tape there? Sheer coincidence and a conspiracy-theory mentality that drives her to see the odd detail as a deeply significant clue? Or some larger circumstances with a Murakamian otherworldliness? Is it some twisted game someone is playing with her that has now all gone awry? Alas, those questions find no compelling hints.
Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter reminds me of World on a Wire and Starfish Hotel, mostly the latter. Both of those start out with situations that also make us wonder if we’re faced with a character losing his mind or with a world that is revealing its darker, stranger nature. Both of those films work beautifully with that wonder. Starfish Hotel does it so well that the end compels, even forces us to once again and for the final time wonder about the logic of its world. The end of Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter seems like it wants us to do that, but at that point, the logic of the world and logic Kumiko follows are clear to the point where I’m just not interested in wondering about anything in it any more.