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Off the beaten path

Film Preview: The Little Underground Film Series 

Off the beaten path

If you've found that even the independent film scene has gotten a little too mainstream for you, the Little Theatre has your back. In the first edition of what will hopefully become an annual event, The Little Underground Film Series will present a two-day program of eclectic and under-the-radar films "celebrating visionaries, agitators, and revolutionaries in the art of filmmaking."

The series starts off Friday April 3, 7 p.m., with the Rochester premiere of "Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter." This dreamy fable from filmmakers David and Nathan Zellner (which will continue for a limited run after the festival) follows Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi, "Babel," "Pacific Rim"), a withdrawn young woman who -- inspired by the discovery of a VHS copy of the Coen brothers' "Fargo" -- flees her lonely life in Tokyo to travel to Minnesota in search of the money abandoned by Steve Buscemi's character at the climax of that film.

She heads off to America convinced she will find the riches she believes to be her destiny, leaving behind her sole companion, a pet rabbit named Bunzo (who steals the movie during his all-too-brief screen time). Once Kumiko reaches America, the story proceeds episodically as she encounters a number of good-intentioned folks who try to dissuade her from continuing her mission, including a kindly police officer (played by director David Zellner) who attempts to solve their language barrier by taking her to a Chinese restaurant in the hopes that the owner might be able to translate, oblivious to the fact that there's little overlap between the languages.

"Kumiko" opens with a warped title card stating that what follows is "based on a true story," and though that text is lifted directly from the opening to "Fargo," the film actually is inspired by another "true" story -- the urban legend about a real-life Japanese woman named TakakoKonishi. The moment functions as a sly tipoff to the film's amorphous relationship with fact and fiction.

Kikuchi is wonderful as Kumiko; despite having only sparse dialogue and portraying a character focused almost completely inward, she earns our sympathy. We accept that despite seemingly understanding that "Fargo" is just a movie, Kumiko needs to believe the possibility that it might also be true. Through Kikuchi's remarkable performance, the film becomes a touching character study of a young woman searching for some sort of understanding from a world she's grown increasingly disconnected from. Contemplative and often quite funny, "Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter" is a film that defies categorization as it presents a mythical tale about the ways that the images flickering across our movie screens take hold in our imaginations, blinding us with the promise of escaping into the beautiful lies reflected back at us.

Following "Kumiko" will be a screening of the 1977 Japanese horror cult-classic "House (Hausu)," featuring live accompaniment from the Andrew Alden Ensemble. If you aren't already a fan of director Nobuhiko Ôbayashi's gonzo haunted house flick, read nothing more about it. Just know that it is non-stop bananas and best experienced with an enthusiastic crowd.

On Saturday, the series continues with a free program of eight short films curated by the Short Circuit film collective. Spanning a variety of mediums and loosely focused around themes of ritual, identity, and death -- my favorite of the bunch, "Plastic," weds a tragic story of wounded youth to a retro, campy visual style -- the program makes for a fascinating viewing experience perfect for those with a taste for the sublimely strange. Things conclude Saturday evening with a screening of the documentary "Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow," focusing on the landscape installations of German artist Anselm Kiefer.

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