David Zellner Talks About ‘Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter’

The solitary Kumiko finds a videotape allegedly showing the burial of a briefcase full of money in snowbound Minnesota. Driven to escape her monotonous life, she begins the journey to far-off America. Berlin Film Journal discussed David Zellner’s latest film Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter, which is being screened as part of the Forum section at this year’s Berlinale.

What were the challenges of and differences between working in such diverse locations as Tokyo and Minnesota?

Well, in Japan we had the language barrier, but really it wasn’t that difficult at all. It was manageable and exciting for us, and we had an amazing bi-lingual crew who had worked on international projects before. We really hit it off, so there weren’t really the complications that you might get working abroad.

What was the inspiration behind the film? Did you start off with the Coen Brother’s film ‘Fargo’?

In 2001, a story circulated online about a Japanese woman who came to America searching for this mythical fortune from the film [a suitcase full of money buried in the snow somewhere in Minnesota in the Coen Brother’s film, Fargo], and that was the only information that came out at the time about it. It was very fascinating and curious to us what was going on with this urban legend, so to satiate our own curiosity we started filling in the gaps. It was interesting to see, in real time, this legend develop over the internet, evolving into different things. So we built our story from that, beginning in 2002, creating a character and a back story that we were interested in.

You both have roles in the film, do you enjoy acting in your own films?

Since we were little, when we started out making films, we didn’t know what a director, producer, writer, and all those titles really did, and so the liberating thing about that was that we didn’t feel we should only do one thing. It’s something we like to do but it’s also made us better filmmakers, knowing what we want and what to expect from others.

Working on this project for over ten years, has it been difficult working on other projects at the same time or has it been frustrating?

No, I think it’s healthy, you get some space from different things and you can circle back. We don’t like sitting around and we wouldn’t have wanted to wait ten years just to make this one thing. We have several false starts actually, including once when we were on location getting ready to shoot, but then the film didn’t come together and the financing fell through. In the end it’s all fine as this was the right time for this to happen.

The sound of the film is very distinctive. How did you develop this style?

We like the idea of sound and music blending together, and sound being a utilized tool and if you spend enough time with it you can get more production value, more of a film fleshed out. Sometimes people neglect sound, or just add it at the end. With the music, we work with a band called the October Project, who we’ve been working with for over ten years, collaborating with them back and forth during production. We feel more informed if the editing and sound design are happening at the same time, rather than adding sound after the edit.

‘Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter’ screened as part of the FORUM section at Berlinale.

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