“We all have our own paths” is one of the few sentences spoken by our deluded dreamer protagonist, Kumiko. That some paths are hopelessly crazy yet understandable seems to be the theme. That a determined twenty-nine year old Japanese girl rebels in fantasy and demands privileged status because she “has important things to do” is the storyline. I came away from this film annoyed. Place an unhinged black girl in the script and we would have a different tale.
Everyone is so nice to Kumiko with the exception of her mother,whom our treasure hunter calls three times during her journey to escape life’s expectations of marriage by twenty-five and children by twenty-nine.Kumiko blames her work strife on jealous co-workers. And mom pipes up with ” why would they be jealous of you!”. In truth, her boss Sakigami has her buying his wife’s anniversary gifts, taking his trousers to the cleaners,and making him tea. He complains of her poor disposition.But Kumiko spits in his tea cups,tosses his pants in the trash,and steals his credit card. Her mother asks her if she got a promotion,if she is dating anyone or if she is pregnant. Everyone laughs at grounded mother’s ” why don’t you” suggestive pressure”!
Kumiko’s cold determination and ill preparation is counterbalanced by everyone’s hospitality and warmth. The film’s humor is always laced at the good souls’ expense ,as if aid to Kumiko is foolish and self-serving. I loved the old woman who offered to take her to the Mall of America! Our directors are poking fun at the dreamers in U.S. all. Taken that the Zellner brothers use the Coen brothers’ film “Fargo” as the crux of Kumiko’s “discovery” and the Johnny Merzer lyrics, “Dream when you are blue..dream, dream, dream”, the tone for nihilistic snarkiness is set. Human striving is reduced to a woman walking around in the Minnesota- cold with a stolen bedspread wrapped arround her and a policeman trying to entertain a foreign visitor with American-folklore about Paul Bunyon and Babe minus an appendage.
The overscored music does a good job in mimicking brain cell distress and addlednessin Kumiko. Sean Porter as Director of Photography captures Rinko Kikuchi’s lovely face and loping walk, her disheveled apartment,and her otherworldly longing with aplomb. She is meek. She is stubborn. She is simple as she steals a library reference book and bribes the guard for only page seventy-five,needed for her destiny. Much is made in this film of maps. I think it is a guy thing. The misfoldings,the careful embroidering of the x marking the spot, the male tourist aids suggesting a yellow markered trip tic state map, all contribute to the making fun with quirky asides.
As I write this,I marvel at all that does happen:the religious guidance,the flat tire,the carpel tunnel joke,the Chinese dinner and bogus translation of all things Asian, and the stiffing of a deaf cabbie and an Indian motel owner for This movie often moves and sounds like brain freeze.
I’ll remember the slurping noodles scene and Bunzo,the bunny,abandoned on a high speed train. “Freedom is an excuse for nothing left to lose” Janis Joplin lyrics don’t play here. Kumiko thinks money,her treasure, will raise her up. She lies,cheats, and steals and her consciousness never rises to ski-lift heights. Her precision is lost in the New World’s snow banks and on the flushed,unspooled tape and flash forward whizz and backward clicks of an old video machine.
Kumiko tries to escape life by modeling herself after the Spanish Conquistadors with her charts and notebook of clues.She sadly succeeds in her escape. You may feel like you have,too,as you leave the theater.