From Ayumu Watanabe the director behind Children of the Sea, After the Rain and Komi Can’t Communicate and Studio 4°C comes the new film Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko. Certainly, there is a lot to be excited by with the names attached, but does it live up to the hype? Let’s find out!
The story follows single mother Nikuko and her daughter Kikuko who live together on a boat in a small seaside town. Kikuko’s life with Nikuko has been full of upheaval as her mother tends to fall in love with useless guys, only to end up all by herself in the end. Even where they live now is a by-product of a failed relationship – although that one did introduce Kikuko to the world of literature, due to the man’s love of books, so she’s at least grateful for that!
Because of her mother’s tendency to get swept along by her feelings, Kikuko takes it upon herself to be the responsible one of the two. She juggles going to school with doing household chores like shopping and sometimes cooking, while her mother works as a waitress to keep the two afloat. However, now that Kikuko finds herself on the cusp of adolescence (she’s almost finished elementary school when we meet her) she’s starting to feel some strain in their relationship. Particularly in the fact she doesn’t want her classmates to know she’s the daughter of the chubby, happy-go-lucky waitress in town whom she looks nothing like.
I’d like to say there’s more to the film than this, but there isn’t. Most of the runtime is spent showing us the daily life of these two as well as how they interact with those around them. For example: Nikuko’s boss who doesn’t talk much but looks out for the two and Kikuko’s classmates who are often a source of stress for her. The story is definitely about both of these characters, but I think on the whole we spend more time with Kikuko, while her mother is often comic relief and not much more. Her most important moments are at the beginning and end of the film and anything in-between is not relevant to Kikuko’s struggles most of the time.
Because most of the film has no real conflict or solid overarching plot, I found it difficult to get into. Nikuko and Kikuko are interesting enough, but there’s nothing narratively to grab onto until closer to the end, at which point I fear a lot of viewers will have tuned out. There’s nothing wrong with this more slice-of-life focus, but I think it does undermine the messages that the story is trying to convey through the two leads most of the time. The focus just isn’t on any of the smaller conflicts for long enough to deliver satisfaction on their resolutions.
I also think it’s unfortunate that a lot of the humour surrounding Nikuko comes from the fact that she’s a big eater and quite overweight. I never found the comedy to be mean, but it definitely walks a fine line and may still offend some viewers, depending on how they feel about this kind of humour. The fact that Nikuko isn’t ashamed of her appearance herself goes a long way to preventing the jokes from cutting too close to the bone at least.
Story aside, I did like the animation from Studio 4°C (Children of the Sea, Princess Arete) here. The animation isn’t overly bright but it’s not dull either, it uses a more grounded palette that suits the vibe of the story. This is also to complement Nikuko who is drawn in a very different style to the rest of the characters in the series, again as a way to use her for comic relief more than anything. What’s perhaps most impressive here is how the animation captures very normal everyday actions and manages to convey them in a way that looks realistic and is eye-catching. The subtle movements of the characters are also worth watching as their body language often conveys things that are left unsaid in the dialogue. Like Children of the Sea, the animation is one of the best aspects of Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko.
Music for the film has been handled by Takatsugu Muramatsu (Lu Over the Wall, When Marnie Was There, Mary and the Witch’s Flower) and the soundtrack, like the animation, doesn’t stand out particularly but I wouldn’t say it’s bad. I can appreciate that the soundtrack isn’t intrusive and simply helps lift scenes emotionally here and there when required. It’s more like Muramatsu’s work on Mary and the Witch’s Flower than Lu Over the Wall, which was also quite understated.
There is no English dub for the film so it’s only available subbed with the Japanese audio. The leading actors are Shinobu Otake (Charlotte in Mary and the Witch’s Flower, Homily in Arrietty) as Nikuko and Cocomi as Kikuko who is in her first film role and does a wonderful job. I think having Otake and Cocomi together works well since, like their characters, they’re coming from very different places in their lives and they play off one nicely because of it. Keen ears will also notice Natsuki Hanae (Tanjiro in Demon Slayer, Ken Kaneki in Tokyo Ghoul) among the cast, who is playing one of Kikuko’s classmates.
Overall, Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko doesn’t have a lot of substance, which is a shame because the characters are plenty interesting and are coupled with some excellent animation. If you’re interested in a mother-daughter relationship story then this is certainly worth a look, provided you’re okay with its sense of humour and there not being any kind of world-changing storyline on offer.
Book tickets for August 10th 2022 in UK cinemas here