Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter

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Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter
KTH Poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byDavid Zellner
Written by
  • David Zellner
  • Nathan Zellner
Produced by
CinematographySean Porter
Edited byMelba Jodorowsky
Music byThe Octopus Project
  • Ad Hominem Enterprises
  • Lila 9th Productions
Distributed byAmplify
Release dates
  • January 20, 2014 (2014-01-20) (Sundance)
  • February 8, 2014 (2014-02-08) (Berlin)
  • March 13, 2015 (2015-03-13)
Running time
104 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
  • English
  • Japanese
Box office$543,894[2]

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter is a 2014 American drama film co-written and directed by David Zellner.[3][4] The film stars Rinko Kikuchi, Nobuyuki Katsube, Shirley Venard, David Zellner, Nathan Zellner, and Kanako Higashi. Alexander Payne and Kikuchi serve as executive producers.

The story is based on the urban legend surrounding Takako Konishi in search of the fictional ransom money seen buried in the snow from the 1996 film Fargo.


Kumiko is a twenty-nine year old office lady who lives in utter solitude in Tokyo. She works a dreadful, dead-end job under a boss she hates (who in turn, hates her), unable to connect to her fashionable peers, and nagged by her overbearing mother to find a man and get married. The only joys in her life come from her pet rabbit, Bunzo, and treasure hunting – which leads her to find a VHS copy of the film Fargo in a secluded cave on the shore. Convinced the film is real, Kumiko obsesses over the film, focusing on the scene in which a character played by Steve Buscemi buries a satchel of ransom money along a snowy highway, obsessively detailing and noting each aspect of the scene and the film overall. Kumiko even attempts to steal an atlas from a library, only to be caught by the security guard, who pities her and allows her to take the map of Minnesota.

Under threat of being replaced, a failed reconnection with an old friend, and her mother's increasing nagging, Kumiko abandons Bunzo on a train and boards a plane to Minneapolis using her boss's company card. With a hand-stitched treasure map and a quixotic spirit, Kumiko embarks on a journey over the Pacific and through the frozen Minnesota plains to find the purported fortune. Once there, she quickly finds herself unprepared for the harsh winter, and unable to communicate due to her weak grasp of English beyond "Fargo". She is sheltered by an old lady, but sneaks off when the lady tries to convince her to stay at her home.

A sheriff's deputy picks her up after passersby report her wandering through the streets, believing her to be lost. She shows him the film and he attempts to understand her, gaining her trust, but repeatedly attempts to tell her that the film is not real – later driving her to a Chinese restaurant in hopes of finding a translator, unaware that Chinese and Japanese are not mutually intelligible. While at the restaurant, Kumiko calls her mother from a payphone hoping that she would be able to wire her money only for her mother to disown her after being told she stole her boss's credit card. This leads to Kumiko breaking down in front of the officer. While buying her winter attire, Kumiko kisses the officer, but he explains that he is married and tries again to explain to her that the treasure isn't real; upset, Kumiko runs from the store and leaves in a taxi, where she plots a course to Fargo. En route, she suddenly demands the taxi to stop, then flees into the wilderness, unable to pay. She soon comes across a frozen lake where, while looking through the ice, she sees what appears to be a suitcase. Convinced that this is the treasure, she spends a long time attempting to break the ice, only to find a badly decayed oar.

That night, during a snowstorm, Kumiko wanders deeper into the forest, the storm growing more and more violent until she is buried. The next morning, Kumiko emerges from the snow, and wanders through a hallucinatory landscape until she happens upon what appears to be the setting of the Fargo scene and sees the marker indicating the location of the treasure. She finds the satchel containing the money. Overjoyed with her triumph, she exclaims "I was right after all". Bunzo appears, and with him, she proudly walks into the distance.



Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter had its world premiere on January 20, 2014 at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival as part of the US Dramatic Competition.[5][6] It later made its International Premiere at the 64th Berlin International Film Festival on February 8, 2014.[7][8] The film has gone on to screen at South by Southwest, BamCinemaFest, Maryland, Karlovy Vary, and Sydney Film Festival.[9][10][11][12][13]


The Octopus Project won the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Musical Score at the festival.

The film received largely positive reviews upon its premiere at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.[14] Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gives the film an 88% rating based on reviews from 138 critics, with an average score of 7.2/10.[15] The critics' consensus reads "Powerfully acted and lovely to look at, Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter offers a treat for cinephiles with a taste for the pleasantly peculiar."[15] Metacritic gives the film a score of 68 based on reviews from 31 critics, indicating "Generally favorable."[16]

Scott Foundas, in his review for Variety, gave the film a positive review by saying that "A beguiling fable of buried treasure and movie-fed obsession" and added that "At every turn, we can sense what’s going on behind Kumiko’s doleful, downcast eyes; Kikuchi pulls us deeply into her world."[17] Todd McCarthy in his review for The Hollywood Reporter called the film "A work of rigorously disciplined eccentricity, Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter is at once entirely accessible and yet appealing only to a rarified crowd ready to key into its narrow-bandwidth sense of humor."[18] Eric Kohn of Indiewire praised the film and said that "Striking a complex tone of tragedy and uplift at the same time, Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter both celebrates the escapist power of personal fantasies and bears witness to their dangerous extremes. It's the rare case of a story that's inspirational and devastating at once."[19] David Ehrlich of Film.com gave the film 9.1 out of 10 and said that "Less of an homage to Fargo than the next appendage of the same exquisite corpse, Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter plays like a dryly hilarious riff on Don't Look Now" but ultimately said that "[it's] one of the best films to ever premiere at Sundance."[20]


The film went on to be nominated for two Independent Spirit Awards: Best Director and Best Female Lead. For his work on Kumiko and other films, producer Chris Ohlson received the Spirit Award's Piaget Producers Award.[21][22]

Year Award Category Recipient Result Ref.
2014 Sundance Film Festival U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic David Zellner Nominated
U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Musical Score The Octopus Project Won [23][24]
Fantasia (Montreal) International Film Festival Best Director David Zellner Won [25]
Little Rock Film Festival Best Feature Film – Golden Rock Narrative Award David Zellner Won [26]
Nantucket Film Festival Showtime Tony Cox Award – Best Screenwriting in a Feature Film David Zellner
Nathan Zellner
Won [27]
Las Palmas Film Festival Audience Award – Best Feature Film David Zellner Won
Special Jury Award David Zellner Won
Sydney Film Festival Best Feature Film David Zellner Nominated [28]
Independent Spirit Awards Best Director David Zellner Nominated [29]
Best Female Lead Rinko Kikuchi Nominated
2015 Crested Butte Film Festival Best Narrative Feature David Zellner Won
2016 Chlotrudis Society for Independent Films Best Actress Rinko Kikuchi Nominated [30]


  1. ^ "KUMIKO, THE TREASURE HUNTER (12A)". British Board of Film Classification. January 8, 2015. Retrieved January 8, 2015.
  2. ^ "Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter (2015) – Box Office Mojo". www.boxofficemojo.com. Retrieved July 14, 2018.
  3. ^ "Sundance: 'Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter' Follows a Bizarre Quest for 'Fargo's' Buried Cash". The Hollywood Reporter. January 27, 2014. Retrieved April 14, 2014.
  4. ^ "'KUMIKO, THE TREASURE HUNTER' WAS ONE OF SUNDANCE'S BEST". Retrieved April 14, 2014.
  5. ^ "Sundance 2014: U.S. Dramatic Competition". January 10, 2014. Retrieved April 14, 2014.
  6. ^ "Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor Board 'Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter' As Exec Producers Ahead Of Sundance Debut". January 14, 2014. Retrieved April 14, 2014.
  7. ^ "Berlin Film Festival Reveals Forum Lineup". January 16, 2014. Retrieved April 14, 2014.
  8. ^ "BERLIN 2014: KUMIKO, THE TREASURE HUNTER". Retrieved April 14, 2014.
  9. ^ "SXSW Schedule – Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter". SXSW. SXSW.
  10. ^ "BAM – Kumko, the Treasure Hunter".
  11. ^ "MD Film Fest – Film Schedule". Archived from the original on September 11, 2014.
  12. ^ "Karlovy Vary International Film Festival – Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter". Archived from the original on October 29, 2014.
  13. ^ "Sydney Film Festival – Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter". Archived from the original on October 22, 2014.
  14. ^ "Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter". Retrieved April 14, 2014.
  15. ^ a b "Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter (2014)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved April 16, 2014.
  16. ^ "Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter: Reviews (2014)". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved April 16, 2014.
  17. ^ "Sundance Film Review: 'Kumiko the Treasure Hunter'". January 24, 2014. Retrieved April 14, 2014.
  18. ^ "Kumiko the Treasure Hunter: Sundance Review". The Hollywood Reporter. January 23, 2014. Retrieved April 14, 2014.
  19. ^ "Sundance Review: Rinko Kikuchi Is Stunning As Alienated 'Fargo' Superfan In the Zellner Bros.' Strangely Transfixing 'Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter'". January 20, 2014. Retrieved April 14, 2014.
  20. ^ "Sundance Review: Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter". Retrieved April 14, 2014.
  21. ^ "30th FILM INDEPENDENT SPIRIT AWARDS NOMINATIONS ANNOUNCED". Film Independent. Film Independent. November 25, 2014. Archived from the original on December 9, 2014. Retrieved December 5, 2014.
  22. ^ Donnelly, Matt (January 10, 2015). "Film Independent Spirit Awards Gives Out $75k in Filmmaker Grants". The Wrap. The Wrap News Inc. Retrieved January 11, 2015.
  23. ^ "Sundance: 'Whiplash' & 'Rich Hill' Win Grand Jury Awards; Dramatic Directing Goes To Cutter Hodierne For 'Fishing Without Nets'". January 26, 2014. Retrieved January 26, 2014.
  24. ^ "'Whiplash' Owns the 2014 Sundance Film Festival Awards Netting Two Top Prizes". January 26, 2014. Retrieved January 26, 2014.
  25. ^ "Fantasia co-director hails "extraordinary" year". Retrieved January 26, 2014.
  26. ^ "Little Rock Film Festival awards roundup". Retrieved January 26, 2014.
  27. ^ "Nantucket Film Fest: Richard Linklater's 'Boyhood' Among Winners". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved January 26, 2014.
  28. ^ "Sydney Film Fest: 'The Rover' With Robert Pattinson, Richard Linklater's 'Boyhood' to Compete". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved January 26, 2014.
  29. ^ "Independent Spirit Award Nominations 2015:Full List of Nominees". Deadline Hollywood. November 25, 2014. Retrieved November 25, 2014.
  30. ^ "22nd Annual Awards". Chlotrudis Society for Independent Films. Archived from the original on May 6, 2021. Retrieved December 14, 2021.

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