Wednesday, June 01, 2022

Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko, from GKIDS

Yes, all parents are embarrassing, but Nikuko is in a league of her own. Yet, her daughter Kikuko never judges her too harshly, because she understands her better than even her mother realizes. Life dealt Nikuko a lot of disappointments, but at least she has her daughter in Ayumu Watanabe’s Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko, from Studio 4ÂșC and GKIDS, which screens nationwide tonight (and opens Friday in select theaters).

Big-hearted and big-boned Nikuko has a long history of getting involved with the wrong men, who inevitably took advantage of her. The last was arguably the best of the bad lot, so Kikuko sort of understood when her mother dragged her to his sleeping fishing village-hometown, afraid he had fled there to take his own life. They never found him, but they decided to stay and make a home there.

Nikuko works for the gruff but protective Sassan at his seafood grill and they rent his ramshackle houseboat. Boys are not really a factor yet in tomboyish Kikuko’s life, but she is reasonably friendly with her fellow girls at school. In fact, she is courted by two basketball-playing cliques, because of her height, but she is uncomfortable committing to either side. However, her anxiety is probably really coming from a fear Nikuko will uproot them again.

Despite being a slice-of-life story (think of as a Japanese
Beaches, but with less weepy melodrama), Lady Nikuko features some wonderfully vivid animation. The coastal village and surrounding environment sparkle on-screen quite invitingly. (It is easy to believe this came from the same animation house that brought us Tekkonkinkreet.) Ironically, there is a far more visual dazzle in this film than Watanabe’s more fantastical Children of the Sea.

It all looks terrific and it has an enormous heart. The narrative, adapted from Kanako Nishi’s novel by Satomi Ooshima, resolves precious little, but that is how life usually is for pre-teens. However, at times, it is nice to a fault. Only crusty old Sassan gives us any kind of attitude.

Regardless, it would be hard to find a more charitable and forgiving film. It is a warm and loving tribute to motherhood, friendship, and community, but a little more humor could have helped to offset the sweetness (sometimes the advice you get from Food TV works for film too). Recommended for the lovely animation,
Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko screens nationwide Thursday night (6/2) via Fathom Events and opens Friday (6/3) in New York at the AMC Empire.