Certified critic on Rotten Tomatoes. Member of the Houston Film Critics Society. Also writes for Bounding Into Comics and GeeksHaveGame.
Easier Than Breakfast!
Based on a novel by Kanako Nishi with a screenplay by Satomi Ohshima, Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko is a Studio4ºC animated film directed by Ayumu Watanabe (Space Brothers, Children of the Sea). A plump, outgoing, and cheerful woman had nothing but bad luck in her 20s and 30s. Bouncing from town to town while jumping from man to man, Nikuko was always taken advantage of because she wears her heart on her sleeve and typically falls for men that aren’t good for her. The film catches up to the modern day in a small fishing town when Nikuko is 35-years-old, she spends her nights working at a grill house and lives on a small boat with her 13-year-old daughter Kikurin.
If “Ghilbli-esque” was a phrase you could throw around to compliment a film’s animation, then Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko is absolutely Ghibli-esque through and through. The film has gorgeous backgrounds with greenery so detailed and colorful that it looks real. And, like most anime, the food looks ridiculously delicious. Every morning Nikuko makes Kikurin French toast. It’s just two pieces of bread dipped in egg, cooked on the stove, with a little maple syrup and powdered sugar on them. It doesn’t stop it from looking like the greatest and tastiest French toast of all time though.
While Nikuko is passed out on the floor, Kikurin makes food to wake her from her coma. She makes spaghetti out of a can and it looks absolutely mouthwatering. The noodles are microwaved and most of the ingredients are just plopped into the skillet, but the way everything sizzles and comes together is practically heavenly. You feel like you can almost smell the spaghetti they’re about to eat.
The film follows Kikurin pretty closely since she’s not like the other girls her age. Kikurin enjoys playing basketball, but is torn between social groups at school. She doesn’t want to commit to anything either. She’s also embarrassed of Nikuko since she always seems to cause a scene with her somewhat boisterous personality. The film opens in a way that makes you think that Nikuko is the one that would be uncomfortable in her own skin at this point in her life, but Kikurin is actually the one questioning her position in life.
Apart from Sassan, the Uwogashi Grill House owner and boat owner of the boat Nikuko and Kikurin live on, and a couple of boys Kikurin sees on the way home from school every day, all of the other characters in the film are female. But there’s so much to relate to in the film regardless of gender. While it may not seem entirely important to mention here, Kikurin has yet to start her period in Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko. Everyone else she knows has matured faster than she has. So she’s at this juncture in life where nothing seems to fit. She feels like she doesn’t belong anywhere. She begins to question her existence and whether or not she should have been born. As a child who grew up with a single mom, Kikurin’s journey is totally believable and feels genuine.
Kikurin meets a boy named Ninomiya who constantly makes silly faces when no one else is looking. She finds something very freeing about that; learning to unwind, letting loose, and not taking things so seriously. Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko features these incredible life lessons not only for its characters, but its audience as well. The film has its fair share of humor too with a ton of My Neighbor Totoro references, a bloodthirsty penguin, a temple that is too flirtatious for its own good, and a variety of talking wildlife.
Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko is so simple on the surface, but is also complex and meaningful as an animated film. The ending of the film juggles tearing at your heartstrings and having everything come full circle. It feels like Kikurin is ashamed of embracing the fact that she’s becoming a woman while Nikuko is dangerously content with her gender and sexuality. They’re both lonely, but they find solace in each other’s company. Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko is an animated journey that allows its audience to feel a full spectrum of emotions throughout the escapades of Nikuko and Kikurin. Its beautiful animation is only secondary to the warmth in your chest the film leaves you with once you see that last plate served at the grill house that so many townspeople frequent.
© 2021 Chris Sawin