Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Japanese Woman's Tragic Death A Tale Stranger Than Fiction

Every so now and then, you come across one of those stories that are stranger than fiction. In this case, we discovered this one by purely accident while watching one of our favorite films from the 1990's FARGO. If you are familiar with the 1996 film by Joel & Ethan Coen, you'll recall the plot in which a bumbling car salesman Jerry Lundegaard (brilliantly played by William H. Macy hires a pair of thugs to kidnap his wife in order to extort money from his wealthy father in law. As the plot thickens, Jerry's plans go horribly wrong and bodies begin to pile up before Carl Showalter (played by Steve Buscemi) buries the million dollar ransom in a briefcase in the snow along a desolate snow covered highway. That is where the movie ends and the tragic true story begins.

We had seen FARGO dozens of times and amused ourselves with the Minnesota accents of Marge Gunderson (played by Francis McDormand) but it wasn't until one curious uneventful night that we bothered to watch the special features portion that came with the movie did we encounter this strange and tragic tale now associated with this film. Talk about pure accident! Normally, we would have been all over this but we had no idea that this even occurred much less had since elevated to urban myth and semi-legend. But there it was!  It was revealed that on  November 15th 2001, five years after the successful premiere of Fargo, the body of Tatako Konishi 28 of Tokyo was found dead in the snow near Detroit Lakes North Dakota. The story which had buzzed around the internet for sometime and drew some international attention then somewhat forgotten had caught our attention. As revealed this poor office worker flew from Japan to Minnesota with little English skills, a useless pocket translator, and a hand drawn map which she showed Police of a road with a tree indicating that she was after the fictitious ransom money from the movie Fargo. The Police tried to convince her that the movie was pure fiction but she had flown halfway around the world to find this money. Or did She?

Evidently this story and it's connection to the Oscar Winning Coen Brothers Film drew the fascination of others such as film maker Paul Berczeller who sought to document the strange tragic tale of Tatako Konishi and perhaps shed some light on what really happened. Paul Berczeller went to great lengths to solve this mystery and in the end managed to produce a fine documentary film that loosely borrowed it' title from Fargo's opening disclaimer entitled "This Is A True Story."

What Paul Berczeller found was indeed a true yet tragic tale of a young Japanese girl who moved to Tokyo from the countryside to work at a travel agency. When that agency went out of business, the girl slid into deep depression and isolation ignoring the local men who sought to befriend her. So far so sad? Not yet! As it turns out this girl had been seeing an American Businessman. A married one at that who left her to go work in Singapore. According to her passport, she had visited the United States three times prior to her death and each time to the same Great Lakes Region. Now why she told police she was looking for the fictitious ransom money from the movie is anyone's guess. As this story circulated around the internet, it had been billed as "Death by Fargo." Instantly, people made the knee jerk reaction assuming Miss Konishi had come to North Dakota under some delusion unable to separate reality from the fictional tale of the Coen Brother's invention. But after reading Paul Berczeller's article posted in the UK Guardian and seeing his short documentary, we can conclude that Miss Konishi's death had little if anything to do with the film. Anyone who says the blame lies with the Joel & Ethan Coen are jumping to conclusions. We appreciate the hard investigative work of Paul Berczeller and his actress who recreated the last days of Tatako Konishi's final days and going so far as to follow her final footsteps in the snow. If you are a fan of the movie Fargo or have heard of this sad tale of a heartbroken woman who allegedly came to North Dakota in search of a fabled treasure only to be found face down in the snow. It was sad to hear of her final letter home to her mother in which she wrote "By the time you receive this I will be dead. Please forgive my disloyalty." Such poetry, so Japanese and yet so curious. If you agree, we believe you will be most interested in Paul Berczeller's documentary. It is not available on YouTube so we can not embed this but you can view this by the following link. This is a True Story. We at American Mishima found this fascinating and well worth viewing this final tribute to a broken heart lost in the snow.

If the above link fails to load please visit: 


  1. I saw this movie about 15 years ago, and I still think about it from time to time. Very sad and moving.

  2. Fargo remains one of our favorite movies. But the story of this Japanese girl while mostly unrelated to the film is most tragic indeed.