- - Thursday, March 26, 2015

“Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter” is a sad and lonely movie about a sad and lonely woman who embarks on an impossible quest for something that cannot possibly be real.

It’s a slight, often mysterious movie about dashed hopes and the difficulty of accepting life’s cold realities. Even more than that, it’s a movie about isolation and all the ways that a person can be cut off — or cut herself off — from the rest of the world.

In this case, that person is Kumiko, a 29-year-old “office lady” at a nondescript workplace in Tokyo. She is surrounded by younger office ladies, all wearing the same outfits, all with smiles on their faces and laughter in their eyes.

Kumiko is different. She doesn’t connect — even when others reach out.

When an old colleague stops her on the street and tries to catch up, she shrinks in like a turtle. When her co-workers gab at a table, she separates herself from their conversations.

Director David Zellner, who co-wrote the movie with his brother, Nathan, emphasizes the social strangeness of these scenes, the awkwardness of being expected to respond to meaningless friendly banter. For Kumiko, being befriended is an alienating experience.

When she is not at work, Kumiko fixates on a scene from a videotape she found buried near a beach — a ratty version of the Coen brothers’ 1996 crime movie, “Fargo.”

But she doesn’t actually watch the film. Instead, she focuses on a key scene in which one of the characters buries a case full of money on a snowy field next to a fence during whiteout conditions. She watches the sequence over and over, and soon begins to insist that she has discovered a hidden treasure.

Kumiko’s bizarre obsession becomes the hook that pulls the rest of the movie’s story. It eventually lands her in Minnesota, where she pursues her “treasure” with an impenetrable single-mindedness, even as friendly strangers continue to reach out and warn her away from her quest.

Part of what makes the movie so interesting is that Mr. Zellner does not offer any overt judgment. He gives voice to concerns about her connection with reality by casting himself as a small-town Minnesota cop who attempts to both help and dissuade her, which results in some of the movie’s sweetest and funniest scenes.

The movie never explains Kumiko’s obsession. Nor does it ridicule it. It is simply presented without conclusion; viewers can judge for themselves.

As Kumiko, the lost adventurer whose coat and homemade cape call to mind Little Red Riding Hood, Rinko Kikuchi (who American viewers are most likely to recognize from “Pacific Rim”) brings a delicate, whimsical sensibility to a difficult role.

Isolation is her defining trait for the other characters in the movie and for viewers. She is cut off completely, unknowable and inscrutable, a person without context. It makes for a fascinating film, but, as often as not, a chilly one with little to love or latch onto.

It’s a movie that, like its protagonist, refuses to let anyone in.

TITLE: “Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter”

CREDITS: Directed by David Zellner; written by David and Nathan Zellner

RATING: No MPAA rating; contains adult language and intense scenes that may not be appropriate for young children

RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes

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