Award-winning director of Children of the Sea and the hit Netflix anime series Komi Can’t Communicate, Ayumu Watanabe, invited audiences back to the theatres for more teenage emotional analysis. This film dug into my youthful mind and extracted similarities to some questions and concerns I had as a young boy growing up. While Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko did explore minute undertones of bullying with the main character, Kikuko, I related to her with her self-exploration of where she fit in society—more specifically at school and with her classmates.
Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko focuses on a peculiar family and the various interactions with the neighbourly folk in a peaceful seaside town. A high-energy, outgoing 38-year-old single mother named Nikuko (“niku” means “meat” in English) had a weak spot for deadbeat men who always broke her heart and was famous for her ability to put herself out into society despite what others may think of her—contrasted to her imaginative, self-critical daughter Kikuko. While Nikou shined bright with exuberance, Kikuko just wanted to fit in with her classmates as she dealt with the teenage drama ensuing at her middle school. However, a troubling truth from the past became exposed, threatening their endearing, heartwarming relationship forever.
Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko somehow managed to add a small chunk to the coming-of-age genre, regardless of all live-action or animated films or web/TV series out in the digital ether. The build up to the troublesome secret revealed was well executed and each moment with Kikuko putting the pieces together was both heartwarming and heartbreaking. I absolutely bawled my eyes out because the themes hit home for me with the self-image struggles and those who have struggled with self-identification issues.
This film could not have come at a better time as June typically marks Pride Month in many countries around the world—the theme of loving yourself and embracing who you are could not ring truer specifically at this current time in the year but also as part of this current generation of our time. Kikuko’s male counterpart for the film, Ninomiya was a fantastic addition to the mother-daughter pair where he provided evidence of how he embraced himself from others at school the way Kikuko embraced herself from others in the town and various societies she travelled to.
“Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko somehow managed to add a small chunk to the coming-of-age genre, regardless of all live-action or animated films or web/TV series out in the digital ether.”
In terms of the artistry, Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko felt very close to the Hayao Miyazaki and Makoto Shinkai formulas with its story and art style. This film’s character, Nikuko slightly mirrored Miyazaki’s mystical creature, Totoro in My Neighbor Totoro to me as Nikuko reminded me of how Totoro was a prominent character that did what it wanted while helping the protagonist. I really enjoyed the juxtaposition of Nikuko’s boisterous charm to Kikuko’s pensive, shy persona. This film almost hit me as hard as Shinkai’s Your Name that dealt with coming-of-age challenges—with a bit more fantasy elements.
As for the similarity in art style to Miyazaki and Shinkai, Watanabe presented hand-drawn designs primarily seen in the environment and background scenes famously used in Miyazaki films—or even in older Disney animated films. Additionally, the character designs were more digitally drawn in current anime works like Your Name or Tetsurô Araki’s Bubble. I have never seen a blend of these two art styles coming together in the striking way Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko committed to its own mixture.
The most standout aspect I loved from Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko was the way Nikuko had an affinity for making language puns, like what many know as “dad jokes”. While she made “kanji” (one of the common written forms of the Japanese language) jokes that went over my head for a North American-born person who has no knowledge on kanji, the puns miraculously managed to land through the English translation and subtitles. Nikuko helped explain her jokes which helped me understand the joke as a foreign viewer and I still got the general facepalm feelings as someone who natively speaks and writes the language.
By the end of the film, I was astonished to see how the bright designs and artwork meshed so well with the darker undertones of the adolescent issues that transpired. I would even recommend staying for the credits as it provided extra depth to the main parts of the film the characters talked about that happened off-screen. I thought Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko offered further introspection into some modern, common prepubescent subject matter for not just young girls, but everyone at that age—and the art and music really helped push the narrative a little bump further.