Writer: Satomi Ohshima based on the novel by Kanako Nishi
Directer: Ayumu Watanabe
Anime has brought some of the most sharply imaginative storytelling to the screen in recent years. It is surprising, therefore, that director Ayumu Watanabe choses to ignore the opportunities for fantasy techniques offered by anime preferring instead a naturalistic introspective tone for the teen coming of age drama Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko.
Approaching her teenage years Kikuko (voiced by Cocomi) endures the usual problems of peer pressure and confusion about shifting friendships one might expect in someone of her age. But her mother Nikuko (Shinobu Ôtake) causes particular concern. Nikuko has appalling taste in men always finding someone who will treat her badly and pinch all her money leaving mother and daughter no choice but to pack up and move to another town. Nikuko copes with her problems by eating compulsively and, as a result, is overweight and her self- indulgent behaviour risks creating embarrassing scenes. Having lived peacefully in a fishing community for some years Kikuko worries about signs Nikuko may be falling into bad habits again and forming yet another unsuitable relationship that will necessitate a return to their nomadic lifestyle.
The style of animation follows the usual approach of anime with ravishing photo-realistic backgrounds and exaggerated slightly cartoonish characters. Watanabe’s stark direction is apparent early in the movie – winter scenes of the fishing village do not present a romantic view of deep snow but emphasise the slate-grey skies and ominous sea.
Watanabe’s mature approach allows for scenes one would not expect in a cartoon – among Kikuko’s worries is that she has yet to start her periods. Yet the thoughtful approach also limits the drama in the story which unfolds slowly and in a literal manner. Rather than use the opportunities allowed by amine to suggest the skill of cooking and pleasure of eating in an exaggerated eye-catching manner Watanabe includes lengthy scenes of food being cooked and consumed which are not visually interesting.
The opportunities of the animated format to adopt a semi-realistic style are used sparingly. Kikuko forms a bond with Ninomiya (Natsuki Hanae), a boy in her school who copes with pressure by pulling bizarre faces. The animation has a sporadic cruel edge; on the few occasions the animators are allowed to cut loose Nikuko is portrayed in a manner that could be considered grotesque. When Nikuko becomes emotional she is swamped in tears and snot and fantasy sequences portray her as a literal ‘meat woman’; her rampant appetite apparent in a body made up of chunks of meat.
Some aspects of plot seem underdeveloped. An early scene showing Kikuko regarding books as a source of light is forgotten until the conclusion – she is never shown to be much of a reader or use books as an escape from her problems. A television psychic is introduced but serves no purpose other than to set up a post-credit joke.
Kikuko’s attitude to her mother is not so much mature as downright saintly. Although she sometimes ponders which of them is the child Kikuko accepts Nikuko’s excessive behaviour with a weary resignation rather than embarrassed mortification. The limited conflict in the movie comes from Kikuko falling out with her best friend; an issue she resolves with typical careful consideration and self-criticism. Kikuko’s analytical nature mutes the shock value of the ‘surprise’ revelation at the climax of the movie- she calmly reports she worked it out years ago.
The contemplative tone of Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko takes seriously concerns of a teenager which are rarely addressed in movies but, while beautifully animated, the film is not always emotionally involving.
Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko is released exclusively to cinemas from 10th August 2022.