"Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter," the movie filmed at several Washington County locations last year that has been earning critical acclamation at film festivals worldwide, is heading for general release in theaters this February.
The film's plot is woven into that of the movie "Fargo," and thus needed wintry rural scenes to mimic those of the 1996 dark comedy. It tells the tale of a Japanese woman who blurs reality and fiction in her quest to find a $1 million ransom depicted in that earlier Coen brothers' film. In "Fargo," the money was abandoned in a satchel along a wintry fence line by a bumbling kidnapper (actor Steve Buscemi), whose jaw was shot to pieces.
When "Kumiko" comes to theaters, a wider audience will have a chance to see scenes filmed in Afton State Park, the Afton Alps ski area, and Boyd's Motel and the North Pole Restaurant in Newport. Many of the desolate winter scenes also were shot in rural Cottage Grove.
Washington County settings also played a key role in "Fargo" itself, and the rural landscapes, unspoiled small-town charms and the beauty of the St. Croix River — while still close to the Twin Cities — have been drawing filmmakers to the area for years.
The most memorably disturbing scene in "Fargo," where the Buscemi character disposes of an accomplice's body in a wood chipper, was filmed at a cabin (since moved to Wisconsin) on Square Lake in May Township. The Lakeside Club in Mahtomedi also was used; that's where the sheriff, Marge Gunderson (Oscar-winner Frances McDormand), interviews a couple of prostitutes. And the Hitching Post Motel, about a mile north of downtown Forest Lake, is re-imagined in Bismarck, N.D., in the penultimate scene as Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) is finally tracked down and arrested in the bungled kidnapping of his wife.
The highest-grossing movie filmed in Minnesota, according to the state Film and TV Board, was "Grumpier Old Men" in 1995, a sequel to "Grumpy Old Men." Both featured Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, and both were filmed at sites around the state, including prominent scenes in Washington County.
"Grumpier Old Men" revolves around John and Max (Lemmon and Matthau) trying to keep their beloved bait shop from being converted to an Italian ristorante by newcomer Maria Sophia Coletta Ragetti (Sophia Loren). The cafe is located on Bass Lake, also in May Township. Set-builders created a shell of the cafe on the lakeshore, where exterior scenes were shot, and interior shots were done on a Hollywood soundstage. When Max and Maria wed, they do so at Christ Lutheran Church in Marine on St. Croix, and an Oktoberfest celebration staged at Lowell Park in Stillwater prominently features the Lift Bridge.
Among other movies filmed at least in part in Washington County:
• "The Cure" (1995): About an 11-year-old boy in a small town who contracts AIDS through a blood transfusion. Filming was done at two homes in Stillwater, along with the General Store and gas station in Marine on St. Croix.
• "Beautiful Girls" (1996): Also filmed partly in Stillwater, including the River Oasis Cafe, and Marine on St. Croix — again at the ever-photogenic General Store, it stars Matt Dillon and a young Natalie Portman.
• "Overnight Delivery" (1998): Another romantic comedy, featuring Paul Rudd and Reese Witherspoon, includes scenes in St. Paul Park and that good ol' Stillwater Lift Bridge.
• "Killer Movie" (2008): A slasher-movie satire that stars Kaley Cuoco from TV's "Big Bang Theory" and includes scenes around Forest Lake and at Withrow Elementary School in Hugo.
• "Best Man Down" (2012): An independent film whose cast includes Shelley Long from TV's "Cheers." It was filmed extensively in Forest Lake, including at the Forest Lake Motel down the road from the Hitching Post.