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A Treasure Hunt Unfolds on Film

Rinko Kukuchi explains her fantastical new movie

You don’t have to have seen Fargo to understand Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter, but it couldn’t hurt. In the latter film, written by David and Nathan Zellner and directed by David Zellner, a young Japanese woman becomes obsessed with the 1996 Coen Brothers film and decides to travel from her home in Tokyo all the way to North Dakota to claim a treasure one of the film’s characters left behind.

It’s a far-fetched story to be sure, but thanks to a memorable performance from Rinko Kikuchi as the title character, it’s an easy one to watch. Here, Kikuchi and the brothers Zellner share their thoughts on treasure hunts and film locations 9,000 miles apart.

This film is about a woman who scams her way from Tokyo to North Dakota in order to retrieve the money left behind in the movie Fargo. Where did that idea come from?

Nathan: It was based on this urban legend that surfaced in 2001, which said that there was a Japanese woman who traveled from Tokyo in search of the fortune from the movie. It just really piqued our interest, partly because of the lack of information, but also because of the intrigue and mystery surrounding it. There was this notion of someone going on a treasure hunt, like in the age of exploration; it was something the conquistadors would do.

Rinko, how did you relate to this woman?

Rinko: When I first watched Fargo when I was a teenager, it was fascinating. And at the very beginning of the movie, it does say that it’s a true story. So, I think that the heroine believes that it was true and that’s why she kind of created a world of her own.

Rinko Kukuchi

Rinko Kukuchi

You filmed in both Japan and the U.S. That seems like quite an undertaking.

David: It was amazing. Because we were on small budget, we used as much local crew as possible. There was really only a small handful of people who made the long journey to both sets. We set up in Japan in the fall and did a whole pre-production and then did about two weeks of shooting. Then, 48 hours later, we were in Minnesota opening up an office. It was essentially shooting two movies back to back.

Was there any difference in shooting between the two locations?

Rinko: I didn’t really feel any difference between making films in Japan and the U.S. To me, it’s all about the producers and the director and their ideas for the movie.

Was the real Fargo everything you had hoped?

Rinko: I enjoyed visiting the location where the movie was made, but it was very cold.

What’s the closest you yourself have been to going on a treasure hunt?

David: It seems like every film is a quest in overcoming obstacles and there are clues along the way about how to make things work. We did a lot of homework prior to going into Japan and Minnesota, so all that could be a treasure hunt in terms of being well prepared.