Discover the Unexpected Story Behind ‘Kumiko the Treasure Hunter’

Werner Herzog states that Kumiko The Treasure Hunter is: “A very beautiful, deep, and touching film,” yet behind the idea is something stranger than fiction.


Rinko Kikuchi plays Kumiko The Treasure Hunter. (Screenshot/Vimeo)

This hauntingly beautiful Zellner Brothers film is about a lonely Japanese woman who obsesses over a VHS copy of Fargo by the Coen Brothers. She is convinced a lost treasure she saw in the film is real, and travels to the frozen tundra of Minnesota to find it.

The film’s gorgeous cinematography is by Sean Porter. Kumiko is played by Rinko Kikuchi, and she gives a charming, deadpan, oddball performance. The other performance I found quite touching and sincere was that of David Zellner, one of the brothers who wrote and directed the film. He played the policeman who tries to help Kumiko.

The images are supported nicely with a soundtrack by indie electronic band The Octopus Project.


The policeman who tries to help Kumiko. (Screenshot/Vimeo)

I found the film to be a little gem, with one of the most unusual and highly original premises I have come across. But there was something I couldn’t put my finger on—when I looked a little deeper I discovered an interesting story about truth. I found out where the Zellner Brothers got their idea from in the first place. Something that happened in the real world.

That something was an incident in December 2001, when the media incorrectly reported the reason for the death of a Japanese lady, whose body was found in the woods in the small town of Fargo, North Dakota. According to the press, she had left Japan with the misunderstanding that the Coen brothers’ Fargo really was a true story, and that there was a stash of money hidden somewhere in the snow on a road by a tree.

Kumiko fulfilling her mission to find treasure.

Kumiko fulfilling her mission to find treasure. (Screenshot/Vimeo)

Later it was confirmed that these reports weren’t correct, and had strayed way too far from the truth. The truth being that this lady, Takoko Konishi, was a person who was suffering through a relationship break-up that ended with her being found dead, alone in the snow, from a mix of drugs and alcohol.

Sadly, the media overlooked Tanako’s real story about which Paul Berczeller made a documentary called This is a True Story. It covers the whole event and is worth exploring.

Kumiko becomes obsessed with a VHS tape of Coen Brothers film Fargo.

Kumiko becomes obsessed with a VHS tape of the film ‘Fargo.’ (Screenshot/YouTube)

So who could ever guess that the Zellner brothers’ idea for Kumiko the Treasure Hunter actually stems from the creative imagination of the media? That’s kind of scary. In fiction, we follow the idea of a character who is convinced this treasure from the film Fargo exists.

I did like watching Kumiko, so determined in her mission to find treasure to the point she has us believing too. 

I can relate to the charm of loving a film so much that you don’t want it to end. But when the lights come on, I know that the film is over. I guess for the character in the film the lights go on, but that world in the film is still very much alive.


Kumiko’s compass. (Screenshot/Vimeo)

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