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“Based on real events”: how a strange death in North Dakota gave rise to the myth of the movie “Fargo”

In 2003, a legend arose in the USA about a Japanese woman who came to look for a suitcase with a million dollars from Fargo and died. True story was much more tragic.

In December 2001, North Dakota police discovered the corpse of a 28-year-old Japanese woman in a forest on the border of the city of Fargo. Despite the cold weather, the girl was dressed in a light coat and short skirt, and her body was half covered with snow. During the investigation and collection of testimonies from detectives, a version appeared that the deceased flew from Tokyo to the USA in search of a suitcase with money from the film “Fargo”.

According to the plot of the picture, one of the heroes digs a case with a million dollars in the wilderness in North Dakota and leaves an identification sign to return for money later. The version that the Japanese woman confused the reality with the fiction, soon dispersed in the media and gave rise to a legend, the truth of which surfaced only a few years later.

A little note in the newspaper

In December 2001, residents of North Dakota could open the morning newspaper and see a short note in the section “Strange news” with the title “A cult film provoked a hunt for a big fortune”. As the author wrote, in November, 28-year-old Japanese Takako Konyishi went from Tokyo to North Dakota to find a suitcase with almost a million dollars, which was hidden by the fictional character of the film “Fargo”.

The police began searching for a stranger after the appeal of the residents of Bismarck: they saw a strange girl walking in the woods. When the patrolman found a Japanese woman, she showed him a homemade card with what the policeman thought was the route to the point where the suitcase containing the money was buried. The police officer tried to explain to the girl that the events in the film are fabricated, and in fact there is no treasure here. Contrary to the persuasion of the police Konishi not give up and continued searching.

Shot from the film “Fargo”

The Japanese woman’s body was found by an occasional hunter in the forest near the border of Fargo (North Dakota) and Brainerd (Minnesota). It was in this place unfolded the plot of the artistic painting “Fargo”: in one scene, a bandit performed by Steve Buscemi buried in a snow suitcase with almost a million dollars. In order not to forget his whereabouts and pick up later, the hero sticks into the place of the treasure a short brush to clean the snow.

“This is a real story. The events described in this film took place in the state of Minnesota in 1987, “- said in the initial titles” Fargo “in 1996, the release. In fact, it is not, all the events are fictional, as the authors later acknowledged. Another thing is that Konishi’s death was real.

In the footsteps of tragedy

A short skirt, low boots, a black coat and a leather backpack behind him – in this form, 28-year-old Konishi appeared in the cold and snow-covered North Dakota, which is sometimes compared to Russian Siberia. Strange appearance stranger immediately noticed the police officer Jesse Hellman, who met with the Japanese shortly before her death. It was he who tried to convince the girl that she was looking for non-existent money, but it was much more complicated than it seemed.

Konishi did not speak English, and the patrolman from North Dakota did not speak Japanese. Hellman phoned local Chinese restaurants and asked if anyone knew the Japanese language, but the attempts were futile. Not having the best options, the Japanese and the American talked with gestures and a few phrases from the dictionary, which Konishi took with her. “It did not help at all. I’m only more confused,  Hellman said .

A shot from the movie “This is a real story” about the death of Takako Koneishi. The role of the policeman was played by Jesse Hellman

While the police officer tried to establish contact, sitting with a Japanese woman in the police station (she was brought there by a local resident, having found her in the forest), she held a card in her hands. A road and tree were depicted on a white sheet of paper: Konishi was constantly pointing at this place, as if she wanted to go there. “She was repeating and repeating something like” Fargo “or something like that,” the policeman recalled.

I never watched “Fargo”, but another officer at the site saw the picture and explained that in one scene, there was buried money. Then we began to think that she mistakenly took it for real events. She wanted to go there. This seemed very strange to us, but suddenly everything cleared up.

Jesse Hellman
policeman in North Dakota

Konishi listened attentively to the policemen, behaved calmly and even friendly, but her head seemed to be occupied with something else. Finally the officers surrendered: Hellman drove the girl to the nearest bus stop and said goodbye. The next time he heard about it from Minnesota detectives who found a card in the Konishi’s coat with the number of a policeman and told by phone that they had found her corpse in the forest.

The last person who saw the Japanese alive, is considered to be an employee of a cheap motel in Fargo (his name is unknown). He claimed to have been born in London, but for undisclosed reasons he moved to North Dakota. The clerk explained that he had spoken to Konishi several times, but she had never spoken about “Fargo” or any other film.

She was interested in where you can look at the stars. I thought it was strange, because in the courtyard November and at night it was not very warm, but I wanted to help her and showed on the map where the stars are best seen. After that she looked happy.

Motel employee in Fargo

Investigators were lost in the versions of what happened: murder, drug overdose or hypothermia. None of this fully explained how and why Konishi was deep in the forest more so far from home. In parallel, the phone in the sheriff’s office kept ringing – journalists from different publications wondered whether the tragedy was related to the film “Fargo”. News about the involvement of the picture in the tragedy appeared in the Russian press.

According to the local sheriff, the detectives found out about Konishi’s suicide note only at the end of the investigation. The girl sent her parents by mail the day she said goodbye to Hellman, but the letter was delivered only 3 weeks after the death of the Japanese woman. As the investigation concluded, she wandered deep into the forest, drank the various tablets with two bottles of champagne and lay down to die in the snow.

The real story in the movies

In 2014, the full-length film “Kumiko – a hunter for treasures” based on Konishi’s story, was released. In the artistic picture of David and Nathan Zellner, the heroine (played by Rinko Kikuchi, known for the series “Pacific Frontier”) really went to Minnesota in search of a treasure from the “Fargo”. It was not so much a drama as a fantasy story, and was not at all like the work of director Paul Berktsellera.

Trailer of the movie “Kumiko – hunter for treasures”

In 2003, Berkzeller made a documentary short film ” This is a real story ” based on Konishi’s death. The author personally communicated with witnesses in the case, studied police reports and conducted his investigation. Part of the shooting took place at the site of the tragedy: as the director told, the picture was given heavily. In memory of Konisha, the leading actress Mimo Ohmori left some oranges near a tree near which the Japanese woman died.

It was thanks to the investigation and the picture of Berktseller that the myth about a girl who was looking for a suitcase with money in North Dakota disappeared. As the director found out, the deceased worked in a travel agency in Tokyo and once met a married businessman. They began a relationship, they went to him in the US, but later the man broke all ties and stayed at home.

As friends Konisha recalled, after the break she was very addicted to alcohol and fell into depression. Probably, then she decided to go to North Dakota. As Berkceller found out, she made her last call from the hotel, it lasted 40 minutes. “I called the number and found out that an American banker was involved with him – Konishi was introduced to him in Tokyo. He left her and did not want to have anything to do with her, “the director said .

After the call Konishe went to Fargo, where, presumably, her lover lived. There she died.

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