Most children begin to find their parents embarrassing as they approach adolescence, but the problem seems to be particularly acute for young Kikuko. Adapted from the (quite wonderful) novel by Kanako Nishi, Ayumu Watanabe’s Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko (漁港の肉子ちゃん, Gyokou no Nikuko-chan) finds its young heroine struggling to define herself in world of constant anxieties while coming to accept that “ordinary is best” after all and even if her mother is “imperfect” it hardly matters, she loves her all the same.
As Kikuko (Cocomi) outlines in her opening monologue, she’s recently moved to a small Northern port town with her larger than life mother, Nikuko (Shinobu Otake), after weaving a trail of romantic disappointment over half of Japan. In fact and somewhat unusually, mother and daughter share the same first name (if written with different characters), which is why the sometimes exasperated Kikuko has taken to referring to her mother as “Nikuko”, “Niku” meaning meat in reference to her weight. Though the film Kikuko is less caustic than her counterpart from the novel, there is a good deal of fat shaming in her sometimes contemptuous dismissal of her mother, also often regarding her as stupid both in terms of her intellectual ability, she’s obsessed with kanji puns but often makes spelling mistakes, and in her tendency to be duped by a string of no good men who generally take advantage of her kind heart.
Being young as she is, Kikuko hasn’t yet learned to appreciate the importance of a kind heart, a lesson she’s about to learn as she finds herself in the middle of a burgeoning conflict between her classmates some of whom feel “left out” in never being picked by the popular girls when they peel off to play basketball at lunch time. When her friend Maria (Izumi Ishii) stages a rebellion, Kikuko doesn’t quite know what to do. After all, what Maria’s doing is only a different kind of bullying, but as she says it isn’t nice to feel left out and even if her solution may be wrongheaded perhaps Kikuko should have looked more deeply at why her friend felt that way rather than rather cruelly assuming she was doing it for attention and deserved everything she got. Bonding with a near silent boy, Ninomiya (Natsuki Hanae), who finds himself compelled to pull faces when no one’s looking, shows her the error of her ways in that she never thought herself to be such a “mean and nasty” person.
It’s this lack of emotional intelligence that causes her to feel embarrassed by her mother who is, it has to be said, something of walking cliché of a stereotypical working class Osaka woman, loud, brash, and nattering away in her Southern dialect. Mother and daughter couldn’t be more different, tomboyish Kikuko stick thin and a serious bookworm, while the bubbly Nikuko is childishly impulsive and openhearted. Kikuko sometimes feels as if she’s the parent and is embarrassed by Nikuko’s larger than life qualities in a culture that prefers women to remain quiet and take up as little space as possible. Not to mention the fact they live on a boat. About to enter adolescence she’s also sick of being constantly on the move and is becoming paranoid that Nikuko is about to start another relationship with a terrible man meaning they’ll have to move again.
Yet Nikuko hardly minds Kikuko’s contempt of her and despite having lived a hard life remains compassionate and understanding, seeing the best in everyone and always finding the small moments of joy life has to offer. She is also infinitely in tune with her daughter, half thinking she can hear it too when Kikuko “hears” various creatures and even a shrine “talking” to her as she wanders about the town exercising her rather overactive imagination. A series of climactic events culminating in a medical emergency in which she figures a few things out forces Kikuko to wrestle with herself and stop judging her fiercely non-judgemental mum to realise that she loves her after all even if she can’t resist being a little unkind in expressing it. A gentle coming-of-age tale set in a delightfully old-fashioned and beautifully animated fishing village, Fortune Favors Lady Kikuko is chock-full of heart (not to mention expertly translated kanji puns) as its somewhat resentful heroine begins to find safe harbour and finally steps into herself with a spirit of acceptance and understanding.
Original trailer (English subtitles)