Today, David Zellner's charming Sundance hit Kumiko The Treasure Hunter hits select theaters. The fascinating film concerns Kumiko (Rink Kikuchi), a wearied Tokyo office drone prone to delirious flights of fancy. After happening upon a VHS of the 1996 Coen Brothers film Fargo, Kumiko becomes obsessed with a scene in which Carl Showalter (Steve Buscemi) buries a briefcase full of money in a snowbank near Fargo, North Dakota. Desperate for adventure, she is convinced that the scene actually occurred in real-life, and, thereby, that the case of cash is still buried in that drift. Going off this wild hunch, Kumiko decides to escape her boring life and fly to the Midwest in order to search for this fictional treasure.
The film is based on one of the most baffling urban legends of the early aughts. In November of 2001, a young Japanese woman by the name of Takako Konishi was found dead in a remote field on the outskirts of Detroit Lakes, Michigan. It was alleged that upon viewing Fargo, Takako packed up all her belongings and left Tokyo for North Dakota, where she bounced from city to city in search of the infamous briefcase, which she believed was real. Having come up empty handed in Fargo proper, she made her way to Detroit Lakes, where she would ultimately meet her doom wandering through the frozen wilderness.
If this all sounds too wild to be true, that's because it isn't. As it turns out, the whole Fargo tale was borne out of a misunderstanding between Konishi and a North Dakotan Police Officer who interrogated her. In reality, Konishi came to Fargo because it was the sight of an elicit affair she had carried on years earlier with an American businessman. When he spurned her further advances, she decided to go back to the root of their tragic love and kill herself using a combination of alcohol and powerful sedatives. That being said, the legend makes for a more compelling story, thus, Kumiko.
Even though Konishi's story may have been exaggerated, it wouldn't be the first time some poor soul got mixed up in that manner. Let's take a look at three of the most absurd that occurred when viewers confused the fantastical happenings of fiction for the cold, hard truth:
Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
This brutal exploitation film, which was one one of the earliest uses of the "found footage" conceit in horror, follows a documentary crew as they journey into the Amazon to get footage of a vicious tribe of cannibals. Predictably, this excursion goes horribly wrong, and the crew members are raped, tortured, and murdered in the most graphic ways imaginable.
Director Ruggero Deodato shot on location in the Amazon, cast actual tribesman as the Cannibals, and killed live animals on camera, all to keep up the illusion of realism. In addition, he paid the main cast members to agree to not appear in any form of media for one year following the film's release so as to make it seem as though they had truly been murdered. Unfortunately, his methods ended up working too well - he was accused of making a snuff film and brought before an Italian court to explain his actions. In the end, Doadato was forced to trot out his actors to prove that they were still alive.
Guinea Pig: Flowers Of Flesh And Blood (1991)
Warning: NOT SAFE FOR WORK
The JapaneseGuinea Pig
series rose to infamy in the 1980s for shooting horrific murder scenes with incredibly realistic makeup and gore effects. Plot wasn't at the core of these video-nasties; instead, manga-illustrator Hideshi Hino was more interested in churning the viewers' stomach with vicious depictions of mutilation and torture.
The second film in the series, Flowers of Flesh and Blood, proved so realistic that, upon watching the film, Hollywood star (and Tiger Blood enthusiast) Charlie Sheen actually contacted the FBI, who launched a probe to investigate. They only backed down after producer Chas Balun showed them a making-of documentary which explained the gore effects.
The War Of The Worlds (1939)
By far the most famous example of an audience being duped by a particularly convincing bit of fiction occurred during the waning days of the Depression, when brilliant auteur Orson Welles (then only 24-years-old!) adapted H.G. Welles famous sci-fi novel "The War Of The Worlds" into a radio play.
Telling the story of using the device of a live radio news broadcast, Welles' plays a news reporter, announcing the shocking commencement of a global alien invasion. In a believable deadpan, Welles went on to tell horrified listeners that deadly flying saucers had descended upon the Earth, destroying major cities in a bid for all-out conquest.
As it turned out, Welles' acting skills were so phenomenal that he really convinced great swaths of the country of the fact that deadly creatures from Mars had really arrived on Earth. All across the nation, terrified listeners fled their homes in panic, frantically calling in to their local police and fire stations, desperately seeking updates on this unprecedented calamity. So great was the uproar that police were sent into the CBS radio studios in an attempt to shut down the show. By the end of the broadcast, Orson Welles had made history: through the power of the written word alone, he had nearly brought the United States of America to its knees.
There you have it folks! The power of the human imagination. Now, if you're still interested in the way fiction get confused with fact, be sure to check out the charming and inventive Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter, in select theaters now.