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Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko (Film Review)

3 min read

Rejecting a traditional three-act structure and allowing the audience to slowly warm to its wholesome story, the “slice of life” sub-genre often leaves you with a positive feeling. While Ayumu Watanabe's latest film, , often succeeds in crafting such escapist bliss, it's marred by an undercurrent of body shaming and a general unpleasant attitude towards difference.

Nikuko (Shinobu Ôtake) is a woman with an appetite, not just for food, but for every experience life has. Her endless positivity, eating habits, and propensity to fall hopelessly in love with nasty men who force her to skip town have become a source of ire for her daughter, Kikuko (Cocomi). On the cusp of teenage-hood, Kikuko has a lot to learn from her mother, as well as from her neighbours in their sleepy Japanese port town home, before she's ready to grow up.

Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko is a frustrating watch. On one hand, it is a charming coming-of-age story about a girl learning to embrace what others see as her oddities and refusing to go along with the crowd. Yet, there is a mean spiritedness to the film, revolving almost entirely around its titular character. Nikuko is characterised as stupid and obtuse, personality traits that the film suggests go hand-in-hand with her heavy weight.

Though Kikuko reluctantly comes to accept her mother's “flaws”, the film consistently presents being overweight and loud as flaws nonetheless. Its core themes are thus all kinds of problematic and it is immensely difficult to invest in Kikuko as a protagonist, as even her moments of self-reflection and personal growth are marred by an eye-roll or sigh at her (really quite sweet and utterly earnest) mother's antics. The film also references My Neighbour Totoro, most notably by recreating its iconic bus stop scene. Comparing the lovable oversized kitty to a real human woman is indicative of the dehumanising quality afforded to Nikuko: while other characters are drawn realistically she remains a caricature in all regards.

Ironically, the film is at its most endearing when Nikuko is off-screen as she can no longer be the butt of the joke. Several moments slow down to immerse us in the gorgeously realised town. The animation is smooth and, at times, immensely detailed. The charismatic townsfolk breathe life into the small port, aided by a backdrop of stunning watercolour landscapes. Sound design also plays its part, as the gentle waves and ambience of nature allow for a relaxing wander through this fairy-tale vision of Japan.

The appealing visual style is also applied to the reoccurring motif of food. Each tantalising meal is animated with reverence and the process of cooking is lingered on with enough detail to insight drooling mouths from its viewers. Food is romanticised and lovingly presented. It's therefore a shame that this same element is also used to demonise Nikuko, undercutting what could have potentially been a wholesome story that blends sustenance and love.

Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko is beautifully animated and is, at times, a heartwarming coming-of-age story that is refreshingly slow paced. Yet, its careless attitude towards people who look and act different undercuts its wholesome potential and leaves a delectable story about cuisine and accepting difference tasting rotten.

Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko is released in UK cinemas on August 10th.