Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter
Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter follows Kumiko, a single 29-year old Japanese girl who works in an administrative job. In Japan, to be without a career or a husband at such an age is uncommon and certainly frowned upon. She quietly wanders around the streets of Tokyo in her bright red hoodie. Most typical females in Japan don’t wear such loud clothing, so she sticks out like a sore thumb. As Kumiko wanders, she ponders her obsession, which is that the Coen Brother’s film Fargo is actually a true story, and thus, there is a lost buried treasure in Fargo, North Dakota. I found Kumiko mostly inscrutable, so I’m not sure if she’s entirely delusional or self-deluded as a response to her life in Japan. Given my inability to connect with Kumiko, I found myself detached from the experience.
**Plot spoiler that occurs 45 minutes into the film, mentioned by about half the reviews I saw from Sundance** The one scene in the film that I keep going back to is when a middle-aged Minnesota resident who finds Kumiko walking alone in the cold on the street and helps her. This woman is an American foil to Kumiko; a relatively typical, simple female. The stark difference is the way their relative society’s treated them and the result of that treatment. Kumiko was pushed down to being an office lady who must marry. The Minnesota woman is an avid reader, who has traveled, is aware of world conflicts, and has built up much more personal strength, intelligence and agency as a human being.
Other than this single scene, I could’ve done without Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter. However, I’m not entirely sure I’ll agree with that sentiment next year. I’d like to revisit this film, because I have a feeling that next time it might break through.
Fort Tilden is an indie drama about spoiled Brooklyn twenty-somethings who are selfish, ignorant and irresponsible millennials that beg their parents for money and look wearily at “ghetto people.” Yeah, that genre. On first glance, I wasn’t enthused, as it didn’t hold up to other strong recent examples like the first two seasons of Lena Dunham’s Girls or her previous film Tiny Furniture. I’m not familiar enough with this sub-culture to truly appreciate nuanced differences in representations, so it grows a bit tiresome. That said, what began as an even split between cloying and enjoyably familiar, shifted towards intriguingly human.
The story follows the girls as they try to get from Williamsburg to the Fort Tilden beach on the other side of Brooklyn. They are meeting two attractive guys they intend to sleep with. Both avoid their life responsibilities like work and money, especially Allie as she ignores texts and calls from a Peace Corps adviser supervising Allie’s upcoming two years of service in Liberia. There are moments in this film, especially near the end, which feel very awkward and real. Allie’s moments on the beach in that last fifteen minutes make the whole film worth watching and remembering.
Writer/director team Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers play off the quirky Brooklyn stereotypes in a way that ultimately moved me. It’s not necessarily easy to be a spoiled kid, because eventually, you’re suddenly tossed into the difficulty of the real world without ever truly understanding what is ahead of you. Suddenly, the pool you’re swimming in has becoming an ocean, and the sharks may be nearby; you don’t know, you've never swam in the ocean before and the fear is soul-crushing. So when it can be avoided, people avoid it. All they are doing is prolonging the inevitable. Their reliance on their prolonged adolescence is like an addiction that they can’t shake. I’ve never quite seen it as an addiction until Fort Tilden revealed that perspective and I’m grateful for the insight.
Riot on the Dance Floor
Riot on the Dance Floor is a pretty good documentary, but it’s disappointingly niche. It explores the world of the City Gardens, a music club in Trenton, NJ, that was frequented by a wide variety bands. The list is long and impressive with names like the Nine Inch Nails, New Order, Nirvana, Dead Kennedys, and Fugazi. As you can see from that list, the genres are all over the map but predominantly focused on punk rock, new wave, and reggae. City Gardens was a haven for outsider types and their music. As an alternative outsider type, I was hoping that while the film would focus on the community surrounding City Gardens, it would transcend that and be about what it means to be a haven for the weird kids.
Riot on the Dance Floor is not that, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good film. It is specific to its niche, and that’s okay. As one with loose familiarity with these bands and movements, it’s fun to hear about great bands and their experiences at a small dingy club like City Gardens. The film even directly speaks to some of the band members like Jack Irons from the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Pearl Jam, Jello Biafra from the Dead Kennedys, and Henry Rollins from Black Flag. In an interview with one drummer who played at City Gardens, he recalled the filth of the dressing room and having his car stolen. This is clearly the type of environment that features great cult bands for cheap prices in a shithole, and that’s great. I went to those kinds of shows when I was in high school. It’s the ultimate unpretentious environment for open-minded fans looking to experience life outside the mainstream.
It’s fun to hear from Black Flag and the Dead Kennedys, or even NJ-local John Stewart (The Daily Show with John Stewart), but I think Riot on the Dance Floor could’ve been more universal or at least leaner. At almost two hours, they could’ve lost 20-30 minutes and been just as good. It’s a film for people from that scene at that time and place. I enjoyed my glimpse of it, and if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to dig out my old punk rock CDs (yes, I do own them).