SFIFF57 Report: Nobuhiro Yamashita’s “Tamako in Moratorium” and David Zellner’s “Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter”

fargo-staurTurning Japanese, I think I’m turning Japanese, I really think so” – The Vapors

Yesterday, while in Japan Town – more specifically, the Kabuki theatre (named after the 17th Century classical Japanese dance-drama) – I was both joyously treated to and irritatingly subjected to a couple of Japanese subtitled films, both of which – surprise, surprise – starred Japanese actors. And in keeping in line with my all-things-Japan theme, and as if to perfectly mirror the day’s movie-watching experiences, I was also both joyously treated to and irritatingly subjected to my evening’s food choices; cheap Pocky and even cheaper sushi – I’ll let you guess which one of the two irritated me, more specifically, irritated my stomach.

Tamako in Moratorium

TamakoInMaratorium_03one-star2Giving literal meaning to my “Turning Japanese, I think I’m turning Japanese” type day, it wasn’t long into Yamashita’s movie before disinterest and boredom took hold of me, causing my face to resemble an expression like the one on Atsuko Maeda‘s Tamako character (see pic above).

I’m all for slow building subtle revealing plots that involve simplicities of more “ordinary” people, (ahem, just about any Mike Leigh film). I’m also all for films that tell a year-in-the-life story of people while being broken into four chapters; Autumn, Winter, Spring, and Summer (ahem, Mike Leigh‘s Another Year). What I’m not all for though is an overacted performance of a mopey character annoying the piss out of me at every turn with her first world problems, the corny day time Japanese television score, and just generally being bored to tears from the many shots of food and the many more moments of those I-could-really-give-a-rat’s-ass times happening within every second of this film.

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter

kumikofour-stars4Here’s what I knew before seeing Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter:

This is a fictional movie about a woman seeking to find the money Steve Buscemi‘s character in the Coen Brothers‘ 1996 film Fargo had buried. That was it. Yet that premise alone was enough to get my butt in the movie seat. I love me some Coen Brothers.

Here’s what I now know after seeing Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter (possible spoilers to follow, though I’ll try not to delve too deep, because the less you know about this film before watching it, the better):

First off, the premise may sound like just a gimmick, but the story is treated like anything but.

Secondly, this is now my favorite non-Coen Brothers Coen Brothers type movie. It remains loyal to its simple premise without ever attempting to add unnecessary subplots, thus retaining an integrity of simultaneously being an off-the-rails comedy, a spot-on portrayal of depression, and an authentic road trip film that is not unlike – yet very different from – anything the Coen Brothers have ever made.

I sure did name-drop the Coen Brothers a lot in this review (Shit, I did it again). The truth of the matter is though, you don’t have to like or even have seen any of their films in order to enjoy this David Zellner, David Zellner, David Zellner, David Zellner, David Zellner (just trying to even out the name-dropping here) film.

This is that rare triumph in independent cinema that is not too often seen. It’s when a film with the potential to appeal to every single person, no matter their age or interests, probably won’t be seen by any audience wider than that of the film festival circuit’s. Hopefully having a producer on board like Alexander Payne (The Descendants, Nebraska) will be enough to give this film the wider recognition it deserves.

Remaining showtimes for Kumiki, the Treasure Hunter:
Sunday, May 4th 12:30pm (Kabuki)

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Categories: Reviews, San Francisco International Film Festival

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