The Fargo movie might open with the statement that it is “based on true events,” but the truth is that it’s anything but. Tragically, a 28-year-old Japanese woman didn’t get the memo and perished in the snow hunting for the fictional buried treasure, or so the urban legend goes.
If you haven’t seen the classic Coen brothers black comedy (an error you should really rectify as swiftly as possible!), then watch the trailer below to set the scene.
While the movie has a truly bizarre plot that led the Coen brothers to slap a totally fake “true story” on it to make it more believable to fans, the tale below is just as outlandish, but totally real.
Police Confusion And An Impossible Quest
In December 2001 a Japanese woman named Takako Konishi travelled to the chilling snowy expanse of Minnesota, seemingly led by a terrible misunderstanding about the buried treasure featured in the 1996 Oscar-nominated crime thriller.
According to police who attempted to help the woman — who also spoke no English — she was clutching a piece of paper that had a primitive map drawn on it that only featured a road and a tree. One officer believed the map looked suspiciously like of the location in Fargo where Steve Buscemi buried a briefcase stuffed with money. Konishi was also reported to have been saying “Fargo” repeatedly. Officer Jesse Hellman told newspapers at the time that:
“We tried to explain to her that it was a fictional movie and there really wasn’t any treasure.”
Unable to communicate with the woman, despite attempting to contact local restaurants, hoping there might be someone there who could speak the same language, Konishi was allowed to go on her way after spending four hours with concerned Hellman. The officer gravely remembered:
“I remember it real clear. Guess her mind was made up. She was just dead set on going to Fargo.”
Wearing black thigh-high boots and a short skirt in the freezing winter weather, Konishi was dropped at a bus station in Bismarck, North Dakota, about 50 miles away from the real-life town of Fargo so she could continue her journey.
Konishi did indeed end up in Fargo and she spent the last two nights of her life in the Quality Inn, a budget motel that, from descriptions, really did not deserve its name. According to a clerk who remembered meeting Takako, she seemed depressed and made some strange requests, he explained:
“I was surprised when I heard how she died looking for the ransom in the movie. She never mentioned anything to me about Fargo or any other kind of movie. She started asking about seeing the stars which I thought was a little strange, because it was November and it isn’t that warm outside in the middle of the night, but I wanted to help so I showed her this place on the map where it would be nice to watch the stars. She seemed to be happy after that.”
After speaking to the clerk for a final time, Konishi never returned. Her body was found by a hunter in the snow in a woodland area near the Detroit Lakes. Newspapers reported that Takako had died during her overnight search for the fictional treasure in temperatures of 26.6 fahrenheit (minus three centigrade).
But Is The Urban Legend True?
After seeing a tiny snippet on the “weird news” page of the newspaper, film-maker Paul Berczeller felt compelled to seek out the true story behind Konishi’s pointless death, in his own words:
“What was it that made me want to know more? Like her, I loved the movies, and especially ‘Fargo.’ And because I did I couldn’t quite laugh at her apparent desire – however irrational – to burst through the screen and make ‘Fargo’ real. It’s a common fantasy among movie lovers. The difference is, she did it.”
While interviewing residents to try and untangle the last threads of Konishi’s life, it soon became clear that the whole Fargo story could have simply been the result of a misunderstanding from well-meaning Officer Jesse Hellman. Berczeller explained:
“Takako didn’t speak any English and the police didn’t speak any Japanese so basically they made it up – they didn’t lie about it, it was like a game of telephone.”
Although the police initially had many theories about Takako’s death, including exposure, an accidental drug overdose or even homicide, there was a very simple and deeply tragic conclusion to their investigation.
Further digging into Takako’s background (after the Fargo story had already spread far and wide) revealed that Konishi had posted a suicide note to her parents and toxicology reports suggested suicide. It’s believed the 28-year-old drank two bottles of champagne and simply laid down in the snow to die of exposure.
Why Would Takako Konishi Want To Take Her Own Life?
But why would a Japanese girl travel to the other side of the world in order to commit suicide?
Paul Berczeller was determined to answer this question and he uncovered a tragic love story involving an American banker named Doug who had worked in Tokyo and stolen Takako’s heart. Konishi spent $88 on a 40-minute long phone call to a phone number in Singapore on her last night on Earth, and by calling the number Berczeller discovered:
“He’d left her behind. He didn’t want anything to do with her. He was from Fargo.”
We will never know the reasoning behind it, but Takako had chosen to return to her lover’s hometown to die.
Konishi’s landlady in Tokyo also confirmed this story after she was visited by Berczeller. She told a story of a cheerful office girl who had moved to Tokyo from a small town, but had begun to disintegrate without warning. Takako had started drinking heavily and possibly even began working in the sex industry. The landlady thought the once normal girl had been heartbroken by a man.
Takako’s Cinematic Legacy
The compelling story of Takako’s mysterious death and the rumors that swirled around it have spawned two movies exploring the tragic figure’s final days in a foreign land.
After his extensive research, Paul Berczeller released his This Is A True Story, which was filmed on location and features the real people who interacted with Takako before she died.
Although Paul’s tale focuses on the truth behind the tragic circumstances of Konishi’s death, another movie by David Zellner named Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter chooses to instead pursue the fictional story of a Japanese girl who perished while searching for hidden treasure.
Despite the unexpected big-screen representation, there is not a single image of the real Takako online.
Do you think the true story of Takako’s death is even more compelling than the Fargo story?