This was a hard movie to like, in large part because the main character Kumiko is so hard to like. Impossible, probably, but tell me if you felt a glimmer or two. I did not, at least during the movie.
Kumiko is a youngish Japanese woman who becomes fixated on a scene in the film Fargo in which a briefcase of money is buried in the snow. She takes the fiction to be fact and undertakes a voyage to claim the treasure. That’s what I knew when I saw it, and so I thought while the movie might have dark elements it might also have some Coen-like black humor along with interesting characters and odd plot twists.
As to character: Kumiko goes beyond dark humor. She is depressed, lethargic and out-of-touch with life. And as to plot: there is precious little. The viewer does not know it at the outset but from the first frame Kumiko is doomed. No learning takes place. No Achilles heel is discovered that triggers tragedy. No saving grace is found. Step by unrelenting step Kumiko heads down, inexorably.
The film’s disdain for convention was to me off-putting. I kept waiting for something–anything–to happen that would derail the poor girl’s deluded, one-dimensional descent. But no. True, the filmmakers in a sense avert their eyes at the end for decorum’s sake but make no mistake: this girl is helplessly falling from the sky from the start and we are the observers as she invents a story for herself during her freefall.
But did I like the movie? Well, as I say, it was a hard movie to like. But yes, at least after the fact, as I noticed it had gotten under my skin.
I wrote about The Revenant, another movie about wandering through a cold landscape, that is was not as good as it looked. Here, the opposite it true. The Oscar baiting Revenant makes a big to-do about not very much. His son, the Indian presence, the bear and so on and so forth. All in the name of . . . what?
Kumiko may not have the classic trappings of tragedy but it is a tragedy nonetheless, and one that in its stark simplicity feels somehow true, despite the ludicrous plot premise. Poor Kumiko has no idea how very far she is from anything real. She has no chance of making it, and to present her story in any other way would be false to her, and to all of those who are fumbling in the darkness, millions of miles from anywhere and not able to grasp how far from grace they are.