“The only thing we should act like is ourselves.” This is the core message of Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko, the latest film from director Ayumu Watanabe (Space Brothers, After the Rain). Like his last major effect, 2019’s Children of the Sea, Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko is a visually beautiful coming-of-age film that’s also a bit abstract in its storytelling. While this may rub some the wrong way, the beautiful visuals and heartfelt story should be more than enough for most viewers to enjoy.
Released just last year in Japan and now available in the West, the film follows 11 year-old Kikurin (Cocomi) as she navigates issues at school and at home. Most of the issues she faces come from her mother Nikuko (Shinobu Otake) in her eyes; Nikuko is overly excitable, loud, and “meaty,” as many people put it. Everyone in town knows her, and by extension, Kikurin, and often comments on how they don’t look alike. Kikurin becomes embarrassed at the thought of her friends seeing her mother (as most kids do at that age,) and does her best to fit in, even to the point of snubbing her friend, Maria (Izumi Ishii).
After meeting a mysterious boy that makes strange faces, Ninomiya (Natsuki Hanae), Kikurin begins to see that life might be about more than fitting in and keeping quiet.
If that synopsis seems a little choppy, it’s because the film itself isn’t entirely fluid. Though there is a linear plot, it’s not told that way, but rather through snippets of life from Kikurin’s point of view, as well as a handful of flashbacks. This makes events a little hard to follow at times, though it’s not so bad that it makes things unbearable. I’d venture to say it adds a lot to the plot for it to be told with this method. After all, Kikurin is a young girl that doesn’t care much for the ordinary. Naturally, she would tell her life in terms of the outliers, and those are the scenes we see.
The film is gorgeous visually. The animation is smooth, but it’s the artistic style that truly stands out. Nikuko appears to be drawn in a somewhat different style from the other characters, which are rather polished and pretty. Nikuko is less so, appearing more traditionally cartoonish. It’s an interesting artistic choice that helps to highlight the way Kikurin sees her mother versus the rest of the world, which is so picturesque.
There is one glaring issue with the film, though, and that’s its titular character. You might have noticed that despite the movie being named for her, Nikuko isn’t the central focus. In fact, it feels like we see less of her than almost every other major character, and she is often the butt of some rather mean spirited jokes. There’s a heavy emphasis placed on her weight by almost everyone around her, including Kikurin, and people often call her stupid, embarrassing, and a pushover.
In the end, we do see a positive view of her as a woman with a big heart that is doing her best. It just would have been nice to see more of that characterization throughout instead of shoved into the emotional ending.
Despite some of its small missteps in pacing and characterization, Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko is a heartfelt story of a girl finding the strength to be weird and trying to bridge the gaps between herself and her mother, as well as those around her. If the story isn’t quite your thing, the visuals will be, at least; every backdrop looks beautiful, the food all looks delicious (as it should, given that food is Nikuko’s love language) and the animation is well done. If you don’t mind shedding a few tears, Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko is definitely worth checking out.