“A beguiling mix of Aki Kaurismaki, David Lynch and Tsai Ming-Liang” is what I tweeted moments after leaving the theatre. Looking back now, I’m not sure that description is on point, for this film doesn’t really feel like anything else I’ve seen. Granted, this is my first Zellner Brothers film (David writes and directs, Nathan writes and produces and both act in supporting roles) and I suspect it’ll be the first most other viewers see, thanks to a vital, fearless lead turn from Rinko Kikuchi (BABEL).

As the titular heroine, Kikuchi makes a fierce commitment to playing an exceptionally withdrawn misfit: she’s a would-be secretary whom rarely makes eye contact with anyone and lives alone in a dank studio apartment with her pet rabbit. She’s also obsessed with a decrepit VHS copy of the movie FARGO she found stashed away in a pile of kudzu in a tunnel-like space. As the battered tape jumps and skips around in her VCR, she becomes fixated on two specific moments: the opening disclaimer that the film is a “true story” (which the Coen Brothers admitted was totally facetious) and the scene where Steve Buscemi’s character buries the briefcase full of money in an endless, empty field of snow, marking it with a pickax. Kumiko mistakenly deduces that the money is a “treasure” for hers to claim—it’s unclear whether she’s a little slow or just crazy, but Kikuchi always lends credibility to the character’s genuineness.

On that note, this is the sort of film where you either go with all the craziness it throws at you, or you don’t. However, a method to its madness emerges in a deliberate structure the Zellners execute: as the action moves from Tokyo to rural Minnesota, it loosens up, possibly getting increasingly inside Kumiko’s head. Harmonically rigid Bach pieces give way to free-form ambient drones on the soundtrack, while Kumiko’s quest obtains the disorienting but not altogether unpleasant effect of alternately involving and distancing the viewer. It’s a neat balancing act, and a journey of the mind that, with its visual splendor in shifting from closed-off to ever-more open spaces, begs to be seen on a big screen. Seeing the film with an audience also allows for discussion of its polarizing conclusion, which I accepted but others may see as a cop-out; that KUMIKO actively engages viewers to partake in such a debate only endears it to me more.  Grade: A-