Apr. 19th, 2015

starlady: the cover from Shaun Tan's The Arrival, showing an aquanaut in suburbia (i'm a stranger here myself)
I'm a big fan of Rinko Kikuchi, and I'd been obsessively reloading this movie's IMDB page every so often since I'd first heard about it, hoping it would come out in Japan soon. It turns out, it was playing in California when I got here, which was damn convenient.

The movie is based on the urban legend surrounding the suicide of Konishi Takako in Minnesota in 2001. The film plays the legend straight and follows Kumiko from a strange beach somewhere in Japan to Tokyo to the depths of Minnesota in pursuit of the treasure from the movie Fargo, which she mistakes for a true story. Kumiko is a deeply weird person, and unquestionably someone who simply doesn't fit in in Japanese society. The film, however, rather than going for a more stereotypical "the nail that sticks out gets pounded down" story, is unequivocally on Kumiko's side, and there's a weird humor to her continuing failure to do her job as an office lady or even to care very much about that failure. She has bigger plans, plans so big she leaves her beloved pet rabbit Bunzo on the Tokyo Metro and heads to Minnesota, trying to get to Fargo and the treasure.

The film has the most uplifting take possible on the tragic story of someone who's pretty deluded, and it keeps the audience on the knife edge of sympathy--we want Kumiko's impossible quest to come true at the same time as we want someone to help her snap out of it. Largely this is through Kikuchi, who has a remarkable gift for conveying Kumiko's inner life through the movements of her eyes and her facial expressions. The ending is inevitable, but weirdly inspirational. The Octopus Project's soundtrack is definitely part of the movie's success, and I'm going to check out the rest of their stuff for sure.

A central plot point of the movie is the statement about the "true events" that the Coen Bros. appended to the beginning of Fargo which was, of course, totally fictitious, and I have to say that as someone who lived in Minnesota for four years, the same applies to the Zellner Bros.' statement that the film was shot entirely on location in and around Minneapolis and Tokyo. It may well be various parts of Minnesota, but no one in the film has a Minnesota accent, or even tries very hard. (Also: the piano in the baggage claim in MSP is open for anyone to use, and you do occasionally see people sitting down to play it. I once missed Vienna Teng doing a two-hour practice set there by about 24 hours.) The nice old lady who tries to help Kumiko also says "tuna casserole" instead of "tuna hot dish," which just proves that no one from Minnesota had any input on the script. Even so, there were enough location shots to make me happy. Home sweet frozen home.

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