Death in the snow - a Fargo mystery
June 12, 2003 7:34 PM   Subscribe

Death in the snow - a body is found in the frozen North Dakota woods. The cops say the dead Japanese woman was looking for the $1m she saw buried in the film Fargo. But the story didn't end there.
An interesting read via Follow Me Here.
posted by madamjujujive (50 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
posted by Fabulon7 at 7:48 PM on June 12, 2003

Dear god that's a sad story.
posted by dazed_one at 8:08 PM on June 12, 2003

I was going to just make fun of the girl. But after reading the article I guess the better choice is to make fun of the girl *and* Doug.
posted by tiamat at 8:14 PM on June 12, 2003

I think this is a urban legend.

I saw this story at least a year ago.

Of course I can't find a link to the old story....
posted by Trik at 8:15 PM on June 12, 2003

I would like the last 5 minutes of my life back.
posted by Wallzatcha at 8:17 PM on June 12, 2003

Wow. That's...too bad.
posted by Hackworth at 8:26 PM on June 12, 2003

According to snopes its undetermined
posted by X-00 at 8:32 PM on June 12, 2003

I don't think the question of her death is under dispute. The question is why she was in Fargo, why she died there, and that's what this story addresses.

There's yet another meta-twist: I went to North Dakota to make a film about Takako's "true story" for Channel 4. My idea was to reconstruct the last week of Takako's life using still photographs, mixed with some digital video, in a kind of contemporary response to Chris Marker's legendary 1964 film roman short, La Jetée. I was going to interview the people she encountered along the way, hoping to excavate the real story and the real person beneath the urban myth. The interesting thing - or what I hoped would be interesting - was that the eyewitnesses would then recreate those encounters on film, "playing" themselves across from an actress playing Takako.
posted by madamjujujive at 8:44 PM on June 12, 2003

Horrible to think that a person could feel so empty that she would just sit down to die alone in the woods.
posted by arse_hat at 8:55 PM on June 12, 2003

This is one of the deadly perils of youth - heartbreak - and Takako should have survived, really. Unfortunately, as the North Dakota police noticed, there are few Japanese speakers in the region and even those few would have been hard pressed to get past Takakos's defenses, so as to notice her heartbreak.
posted by troutfishing at 9:06 PM on June 12, 2003

How interesting to hear a follow up on one of those "Oddly Enough" news stories. As compared to the original story, the reality is less odd but more sad. Thanks for the post.
posted by Tubes at 9:09 PM on June 12, 2003

Oh man...

I can't wait to see the documentary. That's so sad...
posted by Katemonkey at 9:25 PM on June 12, 2003

That is so sad. I thought it was going to be one of those stories where I could have a chuckle at someone else's expense, but it just made me sad to hear of a life destroyed so young.
posted by dg at 9:28 PM on June 12, 2003

"It took about four hours to drive from Bismarck to Fargo, down Interstate 10, a long, flat, almost mesmerisingly straight road. "

There is no interstate 10 in North Dakota, although interstate 94 between Bismarck and Fargo is as described.
posted by peterbaer at 9:35 PM on June 12, 2003

peterbaer: sounds fishy!

This page says there is a US Highway 10, though. Since the author is from the UK (I presume), maybe he just doesn't know what counts as an Interstate.
posted by tss at 10:46 PM on June 12, 2003

Very interesting story, yet I remain puzzled about a few things... what was the picture with the tree and the road, I wonder? How does a shop girl from Tokyo who speaks almost no English have the fortitude to make a trip such as this one, with all that it implies - acquiring a visa, making the arrangements to get to Minnesota from whatever hub she flew into... only to wander aimlessly about the outskirts of Bismarck, four hours away from what is ostensibly her destination? Perhaps she didn't make the trip alone; perhaps "Doug" brought her and dumped her?

If she was seeking Doug, and had been to Minnesota three times before, it seems that she would have something more concrete to help her in her quest... at least a name and some kind of an address to show people. Unless, of course, Doug did dump her in Bismarck, and she was trying to get to him in Fargo, and the picture of the road simply indicated that she wanted to know where the highway leading to Fargo was. And most sad, perhaps she didn't want to mention Doug's name because she didn't want to involve him in a scandal.
posted by taz at 11:26 PM on June 12, 2003

Sorry, I meant getting to North Dakota from whatever hub she flew into, etc. Yikes. More coffee, please.
posted by taz at 11:28 PM on June 12, 2003

Anyway, to summarize: it just seems much more likely that the poor girl was brought there, rather than on some lonely, hopeless, lovelorn quest of her own...
posted by taz at 11:33 PM on June 12, 2003

That is an interesting take on things, taz. As far as getting a visa and travelling to Minnesota, that could easily have been done via a travel agent in Japan. Where she could have come unstuck is on arriving in Minnesota, finding that she had underestimated the language problems she was going to face, she tried to communicate something that was familiar in the only way she could - by drawing a map of what she remembered from previous trips. Either way, pretty tragic.
posted by dg at 12:09 AM on June 13, 2003

Very possible, dg... but it seems that if she were all on her own, she would have come armed with something written down in English... some address in Fargo, for example. On the other hand, if she was with somebody whom she was counting on to deal with the communication issues, but suddenly found herself abandoned, she would probably need to rely on such means as pictograms to try to relay information.
posted by taz at 12:27 AM on June 13, 2003

loosing Doug on her trip doesn't explain a) the sedatives found in her system and b) the suicide letter she sent nor c) the fact that she got rid of her belongings before the trip. But all that is only according to snopes.
posted by dabitch at 12:34 AM on June 13, 2003

Yes, I am assuming that Takako did, in fact, commit suicide; I'm just not convinced that she made that whole trip, alone, in order to do it. I'm wondering if events that unfolded after her arrival led to that decision, and if she was actually enitirely unaccompanied the whole time...
posted by taz at 12:51 AM on June 13, 2003

aye, all those questions make it a really interesting movie idea...
posted by dabitch at 1:07 AM on June 13, 2003

Here is a news story on this from 2001.

Here is the page on it, raising a several interesting points.
posted by plep at 1:38 AM on June 13, 2003

If you've read any Japanese novels, the depressed, introverted death spiral here seems very Japanese. Also, I think Ethan Coen's introduction to the Fargo screenplay is very apropos here. His story of Grandma and the Negress is worth a few minutes of your time:

Why not believe it? The world, however wide, has folds and wrinkles that bring distant places together in strange ways.

FYI, a Japanese person doesn't need a visa to travel for up to 3 months in U.S.
posted by planetkyoto at 1:41 AM on June 13, 2003

*nods to planetkyoto* This story has a very Japanese ring of truth to it.
posted by plep at 1:59 AM on June 13, 2003

"Woman in the Dunes" comes to mind for some reason.
posted by kaibutsu at 2:29 AM on June 13, 2003

so, planetkyoto, do you think it more likely that she did make this trip alone to kill herself at his doorstep, so to speak? I suppose if we knew whether her airline tickets were one-way or two-way, it would help... or would she be required to have return tickets for the purpose of the visa?

Either way the idea of this girl so isolated by her pain, and then even further removed from human contact by the language barrier, going doggedly about the business of doing away with herself in that far, cold, remote place is, well... chilling.
posted by taz at 2:41 AM on June 13, 2003

in a kind of contemporary response to Chris Marker's legendary 1964 film roman short, La Jetée

Thou shalt not take Chris Marker's name in vain
posted by matteo at 4:31 AM on June 13, 2003

Why is she referred to as a "Japanese girl"? She was 28. I see some sort of Japanese-schoolgirl stereotype/fetishization thing going on. Snopes uses "woman," at least.
posted by MrMoonPie at 6:48 AM on June 13, 2003 [3 favorites]

MrMoonPie - Good point. I was wondering that myself.
posted by troutfishing at 7:05 AM on June 13, 2003

With a person that's depressed and perhaps confused/angry/in love/lost .... I don't know if you can say that she had a plan to kill herself, to confront him, to find herself, or a treasure. I suspect she didn't know what she would do. She may have needed to be "rescued" by someone. I don't think that the presence or absence of return ticket would mean anything certain.

For something to remind you of "Woman in the Dunes," Kaibutsu, you must have a hell of an imagination. When I was single, I had a party at my one-room apartment, and about 6 people (all J'ese) ended up sleeping over. I put the movie on after things quieted down. Only one person had seen it before. The looks of bewilderment...
posted by planetkyoto at 7:07 AM on June 13, 2003

I am here in Japan and was at the time of this story.

Having observed the culture I can say ..... possible.

Other posters are problem traveling. The Japanese are some of the most traveled in the world. Passport good for 3 months almost anywhere, lots of disposable cash, often working but living at home sheltered by family. Everyone`s dream to do a "homestay" in America or Canada, etc. Definitely sounds possible.

Considering the poor translations of most western films in Japan, probably sounded more than possible for there to be buried treasure in the snow.

Also, many suicides and senseless homicides here. Friends getting drunk and stabbing one another with umbrellas, young parents starving children to more than elsewhere, but the pressures of "fitting" into society and achieve, so forth is a great pressure.

Quite a phenomenon of salarymen going home and dying quietly during the night from over work. Companies that pay no overtime but work people from 8-10 or 11 in the evening...Many "jumpers" from the train platforms. I have often stood on a platform waiting for a train and had someone simply say, very casually, must be a suicide....

So walking off into the snow, whether in search of loot or the everafter.... Maybe....

Did she do it alone? Good question...
posted by charms55 at 7:13 AM on June 13, 2003

If you've read any Japanese novels...

If anybody is looking to read a fantastic Japanese novel partially about suicide, please run to the library/bookstore and get Murakami's Norweigen Wood.
posted by callmejay at 8:51 AM on June 13, 2003

Er, Norweigian. Sorry.
posted by callmejay at 8:51 AM on June 13, 2003

Norwegian ;)

This is engrossing by the way, thank you all!
posted by carter at 9:11 AM on June 13, 2003 [1 favorite]

There were several things that interested me here.
First, as Tubes remarked - the writer using a "weird news" item as a springboard for what looks to be a rich a film. Perhaps we should often look closer at the real stories behind the ostensible stories, as the author here did.

Second, the suicide, if indeed it was a suicide. Nodding to planetykyoto, charms55 and plep, yes, this does sound very Japanese. It also reminds me of the tradition in native cultures for the elderly to choose a solitary death in nature when the time is deemed "a good day to die" - floating away on an ice floe or walking off into a blizzard. I am struck by both the sadness, the dignity and the courage such choices represent.

Third, the mystery - as taz points out, did she arrive alone? Have a one-way ticket? What of this Doug? What were her prior trips like? Did Doug learn of her death?

Finally, the stranger in the strange land theme is one that has always intrigued me. Once in a B&B in Paris, I met a Chinese woman who spoke only a few words of French and English. She was traveling alone, and her pluck fascinated me, that she was able to make her way virtually without language. We ended up walking to the Louvre together and spending a few hours wandering gallery to gallery - we did a lot of pointing, smiling and frowning. Perhaps because expression became language, I can see her face in my mind's eye more clearly than those of people I know better. Despite her lack of language, Paris is a large city, she had guidebooks, and resources were no doubt available. But North Dakota? How would any of us fare plunked down with no language in a rural or remote part of a foreign land, where even the cultural cues afforded by gesture may be totally different. I'm not sure I would do well plunked down alone in North Dakota, even with the benefit of language!

I will look forward to seeing this film.
posted by madamjujujive at 9:19 AM on June 13, 2003

I saw a movie (a short?) a few years ago about a young woman from another country (Iran?) who arrived at, I believe, La Guardia airport, lived off handouts at the concession areas for a while, was told to leave, and was found dead (frozen? I think it was winter) nearby. I've Googled but can't find anything about it. Anyway, it was haunting, and this reminds me of it.

matteo: I saw Sans Soleil last week and will be seeing The Last Bolshevik tonight at Anthology Film Archives, which is having a Chris Marker festival.
posted by languagehat at 9:58 AM on June 13, 2003

Reads like a Murakami Haruki story.
posted by mariko at 10:03 AM on June 13, 2003

Here's a link to the Japan Today article that was published at the time, with discussion board comments following it. Something mentioned here, and with more detail in another newspaper report I saw (sorry - lost the page), seems strange: she asked directions to a place by the lakes, away from people, so that she could see the stars. If her English was good enough to do this, it seems unlikely that she couldn't manage to communicate to Bismarck police that she just wanted to go to Fargo. I don't know. I'm baffled.
posted by taz at 10:44 AM on June 13, 2003

MrMoonPie: Nearly all Japanese women under 30 look like they're 14.

taz: I can't believe the pricks in those Japan Today comments. Not giving a damn is one thing, but actively making fun of the recently dead is wrong.

On a more positive note: This story reminds me of "The Woman in the Snow" from Kaidan.
posted by son_of_minya at 2:15 PM on June 13, 2003

This is creepy and incredibly depressing.
posted by lunadust at 2:58 PM on June 13, 2003

yes, s_o_m. unfortunately, we also get our share of that kind of response here on the blue. I once read somewhere that a lack of empathy is, at heart, a lack of imagination, and this has always seemed to ring true to me.
posted by taz at 3:02 PM on June 13, 2003

The tone of that story (the Guardian one) sounds kind of 'kidney bandits.'
posted by shoos at 4:49 PM on June 13, 2003

*abbraccia languagehat, sorridendo*

I knew it -- being a fellow Bonnefoy reader, I was sure you were a Marker fan, too. You can buy the Jetée/Soleil Region 2 DVD on, by the way

I'd love to go watch the Matrix Reloaded with Marker, go for a cup of coffee and see what _he_ thinks about it.

ps the Iranian person story is not even an urban legend, it's a sad, true story of the man stranded at Charles de Gaulle for more than 10 years
posted by matteo at 6:38 PM on June 13, 2003

Once in a B&B in Paris, I met a Chinese woman who spoke only a few words of French and English. She was traveling alone, and her pluck fascinated me, that she was able to make her way virtually without language ...

Yes... when I moved to Australia, I spent some time staying in a hostel which had residents from just about all corners of the globe. This reminds me of one Japanese man who barely had a word of English, who I was able to spend some time with (but who had an interesting story once you got past the language barrier). But there were others - the lone Japanese backpacker is not an uncommon phenomenon, and crops up in all kinds of interesting and unusual places...

I've got the impression from many Japanese travellers that the language and cultural barrier, and the difficulty in being understood or part of a meaningful social group, goes beyond simple frustration and can even affect mental health. Like a very intense kind of culture shock, especially coming from a culture which (stereotypically) puts such a high value on group roles. One student I knew expressed a theory that Yukio Mishima's psychological instability may have been triggered by his intense psychological isolation and loneliness during his time in Europe.
posted by plep at 11:47 PM on June 13, 2003

Wow, matteo. I had not heard of the man at Charles de Gaulle airport before; I wonder if the film "The Legend of 1900" was in any way inspired by this story?

Probably not, but there is an independent film that was, that actually stars Merhan Karimi Nasseri himself; and, evidently, an upcoming Hollywood-ized version from Spielberg.
posted by taz at 12:34 AM on June 14, 2003

I really appreciate all the contributions that everyone made in this thread - when MeFi works, it really works well - it expanded my thinking on this article, and now I also have an extended film and reading list!

Thanks for the info on the Charles de Gaulle denizen, matteo - good association! And for the additional info on the films, taz - I will have to watch for them. Also, for the other films that languagehat and son_of_minya referenced. And plep, Yukio Mishima will be on my summer reading list!
posted by madamjujujive at 10:37 PM on June 14, 2003

it seems that if she were all on her own, she would have come armed with something written down in English... some address in Fargo, for example
It is my experience that those travelling to English-speaking areas frequently overestimate both their own English ability (often based on encouragement from teachers that they are making great progress, to make sure they keep paying for more lessons) and the ability of others to communicate effectively with an extremely limited vocabulary at their disposal. I have seen people carry out what they think are conversations in English, without realising how much Japanese/Korean/Chinese/whatever they are sprinkling through the conversation and without realising that they are making no sense whatever. Try learning English from a textbook, assisted by someone who has little knowledge of the language themselves and then travel to an English-speaking country and try to communicate.

Communicating with someone who does not speak your language at a functional level is a skill that must be learned by experience and I suspect that the locals had little or no experience in dealing with this issue. I have seen this at work many times where new staff members are completely unable to communicate with international students and yet, a few months later, they are chatting away like old friends, having learned how to manage with very few words. Of course, the most important part of this skill is learning to listen to someone, rather than just hearing the words that manage to come out.
posted by dg at 4:22 PM on June 15, 2003

oh, dg! One of the things that I wanted to mention in this thread was the "language paralysis" syndrome; I've seen this over and over, in a great many different contexts. Foreign Person A speaks to Local Person B: although Person A has a rudimentary command of the language, and is communicating basic ideas with the correct words, Person B only registers the accent, (which she/he is entirely unaccustomed to) and believes they cannot understand anything Person A is saying. This has happened to me many times when speaking Greek (or, let's say, trying to...), and I've seen it happen very many times in the US with non-native speakers who do, in fact, speak English.

I don't actually have a terrible, terrible accent in most of the sentences that I manage to string together, but I have noticed this frightened, shut-down look in some people once I begin to speak. They are absolutely convinced that they will never understand... yet, when I ask my Greek friends what I did wrong, they say that I pronounced the words correctly. It's very possible that Takako had the same problem, and that to some people, she seemed absolutely incomprehensible, while others, who were more relaxed, took things a bit more slowly, and could understand what she was saying...

Just so we don't confuse things: when I speak in Greek here, and somebody doesn't understand what I'm saying, usually all I have to do is repeat it in English, and the light will come on over their heads: Ahh!. I have had no personal experience like Takako.
posted by taz at 4:13 AM on June 16, 2003 [1 favorite]

« Older Write better emails. Make more moneys.   |   Steal This Feline Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments