Insight

Every time I watch the films about Japan or depicting Japanese people by non-Japanese directors, I find myself often upset and try to keep calm. Sometimes when I talk to the filmmakers they reassure me that this is how people outside Japan see Japan and Japanese people, which is of course totally different from what I know to be reality. In some extreme case, the protagonists who are supposed to be Japanese speak Chinese. So I prepared myself for this sort of experience before watching Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter. But, it turned out that there was no need. One of the reasons because of this may be that Rinko Kikuchi who plays Kumiko is also involved in this film as a producer.

This is a story of an Office Lady, Kumiko. She escapes from her grindingly dull job and travels to Minnesota to find a satchel of money which she saw in the Coen Brother’s crime film, Fargo (1996). As you may know, Fargo begins with the note saying “This is a true story”. This is of course one of the director’s tricks but Kumiko desperately needs something exciting to cling on to and she believes the note. This film, Kumiko the Treasure Hunter is actually based on the urban legend of a Japanese women who died in Minnesota on a similar journey. So the message, “This is a true story,” at the beginning of this film also has a different meaning for viewers.

I could not help but be attracted to Kumiko as played by Rinko Kikuchi. Whenever we see her she is wearing a distinctive red hoodie which stands out whether it is amongst the salary men who all wear black suits in Tokyo or in the snowy landscape in Minnesota. Especially in Minnesota, it brought me back to the scene of Fargo in which Gel, running away from Marge, leaves his blood on the snow-covered ground. There are plenty of scenes which pay homage to Fargo, so I strongly recommend viewers watch Fargo before Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter.

One thing I was confused by in this film is the anachronism of some scenes. Although I thought that this is set in ten or so years ago by seeing the cell phone the protagonists use, all the sets in Tokyo from the library to the underground give the impression of being “at this moment”. Also I can’t believe Matsuge-parma (eyelash perm) is on trend among Japanese women having flip phones.

Some viewers might feel like doing time travelling because Tokyo seems set in around 2010 while Minnesota set in around 1990's. Also, personally, I’m wondering what makes Kumiko a Treasure Hunter and how she finds the video which is the trigger of all of the treasure hunting in the film although it might be difficult to include that in the short running time of the film which clocks in at 105 minutes. This is actually what I thought after another film by David Zellner, Kid-Thing (2012) which left me with questions. So, this might be one of the techniques of his to get the audience’s attention. Most importantly, the fact that I felt the urge to find out more about the protagonist means I fully enjoyed the film.

The fact that I felt the urge to find out more about the protagonist means I fully enjoyed the film.
— Natsumi Shiroko
 

 

DESIGN

With sam smith, a graphic artist.

 
I believe that print will never die.
— Sam Smith

Interviews by Yoshito Seino

                                              Image provided by Sam Smith.

                                              Image provided by Sam Smith.

How indie films survive in a highly competitive film market does not only depend upon the issues of budget, well-known cast and its distribution but also the issue of how much we efficiently and effectively we promote the films to potential audiences. Sam Smith, a musician, producer and graphic artist based in Nashville in the United States is trying to challenge these issues through a traditional print marketing tool - film posters. We were made curious about his work when we saw the beautiful images that combined various colors and in the poster illustration of Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter; his design is beyond just a "film" poster itself; it's a good magazine cover like Bloomberg Business Week or the New York Times Magazine which completely re-imagines what a cover should be.

We looked at the stories behind the work and his brief. 

 

Q

pLEASE TELL US THE CONCEPT WHEN YOU DESIGNED A FILM POSTER OF KUMIKO, THE TREASURE HUNTER.

A

Originally, my design for Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter was to depict Rinko Kikuchi in a field of white snow, wrapped in her hood and blanket, with her body fading out into the white background. I tried a photographic sketch, and also tried an illustrated version. The distributor, Amplify, liked the illustrated version, and when I started experimenting with color, I tried a black background instead of white and we all preferred this look. Our plan was to make silkscreen prints of the design, and we thought that a bold and colorful design would look best on a black background. I came up with the idea for Kumiko to be holding Bunzo, her bunny, in her arms, but for the blanket to become an abstract field of imagery and landscape which would include the videotape from the story, a modern cityscape of Japan, and a rural landscape including the cave where Kumiko's story begins. Behind Kumiko, I illustrated the snowy landscape of Fargo where her story ends.

Q

HOW DID YOUR CAREER START?

A

I have been drawing and designing posters since I was a child, but I only began to design film posters professionally about six years ago. I created some designs for the Belcourt Theatre in Nashville, for new and classic films, as a way to channel my love for film into my practice in the visual arts. Because of my work for the Belcourt, distributors like Janus Films -- the theatrical arm of The Criterion Collection -- got in touch with me to produce official art for films. I designed a poster for their releases of Nobuhiko Obayashi's HOUSE and Kaneto Shindo's KURONEKO, both of which were special projects for me as I am a great admirer of Japanese films, especially magical films like these. Since then I have continued to design film posters for independent distributors, DVD covers for Criterion, and am now exploring children's illustrations as well.

Q

WHAT IS THE CURRENT STATE OF FILM POSTER DESIGN AND WHAT DO YOU EXPECT OF THE ROLE OF POSTERS IN THE FUTURE?

A

The role of the poster has changed in the world of Hollywood. Movie posters are designed by advertising firms and intended to be viewed primarily on mobile devices, and as thumbnails on a computer instead of being viewed in large format in a theater lobby like the old days. Meanwhile, those who love printed media are keeping the art of posters alive. Companies like Mondo take pride in creating custom artworks for films and producing these posters as silkscreen prints for film and art lovers. And new film distributors like Amplify, A24, IFCFilms, Oscilloscope, and Cinedigm-- as well as the titans Janus Films-- value the creation of iconic and unique poster art for their films. Personally, I think there is opportunity in this "thumbnail world" to create smaller, more reductive, more iconic pieces of movie artwork; This intrigues me for the future. And I believe that print will never die. So there is hope.

Find out more his work here.


 

music

WITH the octopus project 

 

The Octopus Project made much use of the various faces that psychedelic music can provide.

 

Words by Yoshito Seino / Natsumi Shiroko

Photo by Madeline Allen.

Following Zellner Brother's 2nd feature-film Kid Thing (2012), The Octopus Project has collaborated again on Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter. Hang your headphone and listen to their sound track with no intention. You are quickly obsessed with the mysterious world which is like Kimoko goes to unpredictable place. Some songs lnvite audience to see Kumiko as a pure wanderer like Little Red Riding Hood. Others enhance Kumiko's character, a girl obsessed with something. The Octopus Project made much use of the various faces that psychedelic music can provide. 

The Octopus Project is based in Austin, Texas (as same as Zellner Brothers) where is a well-known destination as "Live Music Capital of the World." In every March, South By Southwest, the biggest multi-media event focusing on music, films and interactive media catch the attention of all of the people who want to discover next generation and enjoy music itself; because "Music is more than a hobby for Austinites. It's our roots. And it's our passion."

Multi-talented 4 members explore the possibility of music in combination with analog instruments, digital, electric sound and noises. They has been released five full-length album since debuted in 2002, and the sound track of Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter won the Special Jury Prize for Musical Score at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.