Team Bunzo

Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter

by Hope Madden

Films based on true stories are a dime a dozen. Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter is, appropriately enough, based on confusion.

In 2001, Japanese travel agent Takako Konishi’s body was found in the snow of North Dakota and, through a series of misunderstandings, the urban legend developed claiming that she’d made the trip from Tokyo in search of the money Carl Showalter (Steve Buscemi) buried in the snow in the film Fargo.

In 2003, Paul Berczeller made a documentary short to sift through the truth and the myth of Konishi’s death, but Kumiko co-writer/director David Zellner is more interested in the legend. With the help of a magnificent Rinko Kikuchi (Oscar nominee for Babel), he weaves a dreamy dark comedy that’s both visually stunning and hypnotic.

In the wrong hands, Kumiko could easily have fallen into caricature: socially withdrawn, delusions of grandeur, general misanthropy. But that would have undermined the lilting melancholy of Zellner’s script (writing again with his brother Nathan), and would have tiptoed far too close to mocking the honest tragedy on which this film is loosely, imaginatively based.

Luckily, Kikushi’s were the right hands, and it’s hard to imagine anyone doing more right by this character. With no real friend besides her bunny Bunzo, Kumiko’s world is so utterly internal that she remains a fascinating if awkward enigma throughout the film. Through a mostly physical performance Kikushi both articulates the off-kilter logic that drives this character and shows off the most bittersweet comic timing.

Like a little red-hooded Don Quixote, the more desperately invested Kumiko becomes in her fantasy the tenderer we feel for her, which is a great contrast to the way a film like this often works – the deeper into the zany adventure, the nuttier and nuttier the protagonist becomes. Zellner and Kikushi pull the opposite direction, giving the film an honest emotional tug.

Zellner’s inspiration is the work of the Cohens almost as much as it is the myth surrounding Takako Konishi’s death. While his cinematic style can’t quite touch that of those masters, with the help of a phenomenal central performance and his peculiar flair for storytelling, he’s created a truly memorable film.

Verdict-4-0-Stars

Inspiring or Exploitative?

Farewell to Hollywood

by Christie Robb

In Farewell to Hollywood, documentary filmmaker Henry Corra presents us with the last two years in the life of co-director Regina Nicholson, a young woman struggling against osteosarcoma for the second time.

The movie is troubling. And not just because of the cancer.

Originally diagnosed just after her sixteenth birthday, Regina “Reggie”was an aspiring filmmaker that met the much older Henry at a film festival. Her life’s goal was to make a full-length feature. She sets out to do this with Henry, but early into the project her cancer returns.

The resulting film is an arty home movie of the end of Reggie’s life.

In the film, Reggie’s family initially seems to welcome Henry, excited that he’s taking an interest in their daughter’s dreams. But, as the cancer becomes more aggressive, relations between the grown-ups becomes strained. Reggie’s parents tell Henry to back off. Attached to the point of obsession, Henry presses on Reggie to give him more of her time. Her parents threaten to cut off Reggie’s medical insurance and Henry finds her a home in South Pasadena, taking over as her medical caretaker.

To what extent does Henry exacerbate the family drama? To what extent does he provide essential support?

Because the narrative is given to us through Henry’s editing, it’s difficult to say whether Henry has crossed the line into Perv Town. (There are moments that provoke a major sense of unease.) Or whether Reggie’s parents are smothering and emotionally manipulative to the point of denying her the chance to live in the limited time she has left. Or both.

There’s little input Reggie seems to have on the film. At no point does she clearly turn the camera on Henry. Her chops as a filmmaker are glossed over. We see her bedroom, her stacks of DVDs, her walls plastered with movie posters. We see scenes from her favorite movies, but despite her co-authorship credit, she comes across as more subject than author.

But as a subject, what we do see is a driven, resilient young woman following her dream, joking her way through medical procedures while dealing with excruciating pain and needy adults—interspersed with lots of clips from Pulp Fiction.

In the end, Reggie shares her death beautifully and it was a privilege to know that for 19 brief years she was a part of this world.

Verdict-2-5-Stars