There’s a true story. It’s the true story of a Japanese girl who came to North Dakota searching for the one million dollars she saw being hidden in the movie Fargo, which itself was labeled a true story. In this true story the girl, out of place and seemingly confused by the line between reality and fantasy, met her tragic end in the cold Fargo woods, still searching for that mythical one million dollars.
Everybody knows that true story. It was picked up by the media in a big way in December of 2001. There was something darkly comic about it, something that wouldn’t have been out of place in a Coen Brothers movie. And it turns out to have been just as true as Fargo itself.
In Fargo Steve Buscemi’s kidnapper character, shot and bleeding, buries the ransom money from the crime that is currently going wrong. He digs a hole near a fence, planning to use it as a landmark for his eventual retrieval of the cash, but when he’s done he realizes his mistake -- the fence, seemingly the only thing in a barren snowy landscape, is long and endless and each section is indistinguishable from each other. The money is as good as gone.
Takako Konishi left Tokyo and headed to North Dakota. She came to Bismarck, the state capitol, and began asking people -- in halting, broken English -- to look at a map she had created. Polite midwesterners brought the police, who interviewed the young girl. At first they didn’t understand what she wanted, and then one of the cops -- who had seen Fargo -- said he believed she was looking for the lost money from the movie. The cops tried to convince her that the movie wasn’t actually a true story, but the language barrier made it impossible. Eventually she left and there was nothing they could do to help her.
Days later she was dead.
Somehow the story made the media, and the angle was that this Japanese girl -- dressed in then-trendy Tokyo fashion that was completely inappropriate for North Dakota’s winter -- had died on a quixotic quest to uncover the treasure. Everybody had their grim chuckle and moved on, and when Takako Konishi’s suicide note showed up three weeks later in the mail at her parents’ home, nobody cared anymore.
It turns out that Takako came to North Dakota for a man, a man who was in Bismarck. A man who had spurned her. And sad and lonely and having her world shattered, trapped in a sea of friendly, clueless midwesterners, Takako took her own life. All of the business about the money from Fargo seems to have been a misunderstanding caused by insurmountable language barriers. There never was a search for treasure; the last person who spoke to Takako alive gave her directions to a spot perfect for stargazing. The universe, it seems, was the last thing Takako wanted to see, not a briefcase containing a fortune.
Fargo isn’t a true story. The title card that makes the claim is just some good old-fashioned trolling from the Coens, playing with the cinematic conventions of ‘true stories.’ How gullible are you, they gleefully asked. Gullible enough that even today, twelve years after her sad ending, there are still people who believe Takako Konishi was searching for something that didn’t exist. Maybe, like all of us, she was, but in a more profound way.
Originally published in Birth.Movies.Death.