Fantasia 2021: Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko
Past decisions and future aspirations collide in the wonderfully endearing Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko. Extremely spirited and heartwarming, Ayumu Watanabe’s latest film tracks a tenuous mother-daughter relationship in a small town where gossip and rumors spread quickly. A coming-of-age film at heart, Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko’s strengths lie in its strong women and the difficult burdens they carry to achieve happiness.
Kikuko (voiced by Cocomi) is tired of moving from town to town, but she has no choice. Her mother, Nikuko (Shinobu Otake), can’t seem to keep in one place without needing to move on, whether it’s from gambling debt or a broken heart. To most, it looks like fortune really doesn’t favor Nikuko. When Kikuko finally starts settling into their new home in a small fishing village and her mother appears to be falling for another man, the threat of moving again looms over Kikuko and the relationship between her and her mother reaches a breaking point.
Calling Nikuko “embarrassing” would be selling her short. She’s loud, finds herself constantly in potentially harmful situations (financially, emotionally, and physically), and she sticks out like an eyesore. As an animated film, Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko is able to really accentuate this by turning normal scenes into bright, colorful, eccentric moments where Nikuko fills the whole screen either yelling loudly or stuffing her face with more food than should be humanly possible. Even the way the characters are presented – Kikuko a small, skinny girl who keeps to herself, while Nikuko is overweight and brimming with energy – emphasizes the dissonance between the two characters and why Nikuko effortlessly embarasses Kikuko, even if unintended.
This will also be a sticking point in how Nikuko’s portrayal is perceived by audiences. Almost all of the emphasis is put on her being a caricature of loud, overweight women. No character can go by without acknowledging it. Even her daughter calls her “Totoro”. She’s abrasive. As a counterpoint to Kikuko, it works exceptionally well, and it’s worth noting that even though every other character points at Nikuko and laughs, she does not acknowledge their insults. Thick-skinned and resilient end up being the most definitive character traits for Nikuko, and it overshadows some of the body shaming that the film falls into by being so over-the-top.
Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko has multiple relationships between Kikuko and friends and acquaintances that are all fleshed out relatively well, with her crush on Ninomiya (Natsuki Hanae) being particularly engaging. It’s all a little saccharine by the end, but it undeniably packs an emotional wallop. Everything in the film just flows in a chronological order, all the while threatening a potential move away from the village in the future.
It’s an undeniably cute movie though that fits well into its calm, rural setting. Balancing between heartfelt drama and vibrant whimsy, it strikes that equilibrium with a cool effectiveness. Some of that whimsy isn’t capitalized on enough, such as animals in the village that talk but no one seems to acknowledge their silly musings, yet even then Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko ends up entertaining throughout. Packed to the brim with delicious food, engaging animation, and a powerful relationship that’s fully nourished, it’s a delightful drama that never ceases to tug on the heartstrings.