GKIDS is bringing Studio 4°c’s Favors Lady Nikuko to theaters this weekend. The anime adaptation is a moving mother-daughter story and ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief Tyler Treese spoke to director Ayumu Watanabe about the film.
“Brash single mother Nikuko is well-known for her bold spirit, much to the embarrassment of Kikuko, her pensive yet imaginative daughter,” says the official synopsis. “In contrast to her mother, Kikuko wants nothing more than to fit in as she navigates the everyday social dramas of middle school. Life in the harbor is peaceful until a shocking revelation from the past threatens to uproot the pair’s tender relationship.”
What stood out about the original novel that made you want to adapt it into a film?
Ayumu Watanabe: So the first person who really wanted to adapt this novel was our producer, Sanma Akashiya. He’s a famous comedian from Japan. So I think he was really drawn to the story about the question of what makes a relationship, or what makes a bond between someone. And I really think that resonated with him. And of course, that part resonated with me as well.
I thought Kikuko was wonderfully voiced by Cocomi. Can you speak to her performance in the film and the decision to cast her?
Thank you so much. I think Cocomi would really be happy to hear that from you! So actually it was the producer Mr. Sanma’s idea to cast her. Cocomi is pretty famous in Japan. One of the most famous idol boy bands in Japan is SMAP, and then one of the most popular members of SMAP is Takuya Kimura and Cocomi is his daughter. Because of that, Sanma, the producer, he knew Cocomi from when she was a child. It wasn’t because they were friends that she was hired, but that was just an idea that he had. We had her do a test recording, similar to an audition, and the texture, how her voice sounded, was perfect. And when I heard it, I thought “oh, she has to be Kikumi.”
There’s a really fun role reversal in the film where the daughter acts more mature than the mother, who is a lot of comic relief. How fun was that element to explore?
Having elements of having a child within an adult or having the adult inside of a child … the role reversal, as you said, was really fun. And the novel is actually like that too. So what I wanted the actors and also the animators as they worked on the film, I wanted them to feel that role reversal and have fun. Sometimes even Kikuko would act childish and Nikuko would act like an adult. The comedy that occurs from that, having them feel that was really fun as a director,
Nikuko has such a rough backstory of being used by all these men, but despite this, she retains a sweetness and pure energy to her. She’s always putting others first. Can you speak to what makes her such an interesting character?
With Nikuko, what’s most important with her character is that she doesn’t know that there’s malicious intent in this world. So as a human, it’s probably like the easiest way to live, thinking that everyone has good intentions. Her heart is so big. She has so much leeway in her heart that it’s her status, but also, it’s what makes her who she is. And I really think that part of the story is what’s so fantastic about this story.
The animation is so incredible throughout. Were there any scenes that were particularly tricky to nail down or any that you’re particularly proud of?
Yeah, choosing one scene is going to be really hard because my answer might affect how the animators feel about me. I was really specific about the food scenes. I don’t know if you would call them beautiful, but we really put a lot of effort into the food scenes. And, personally, my favorite scene is when, um, Kikuko and Ninomiya are in the hospital room and they look up to the sky and the snow is falling. That is my personal favorite.
I thought the story explored was really touching, especially about embracing the present and just the bond between mother and daughter. Can you speak to just the themes of the film?
I really think happiness comes in different forms and it’s important to not compare yourself to others or compare your happiness to other people’s happiness and also treasuring the happiness you feel right now is really important. I hope the audience takes that away from this film.
Your previous film, Children of the Sea, was so beautiful. What lessons did you learn from that, that you were able to apply here?
Basically how I make my films is always the same. I want to always make it a beautiful, heartwarming story. The difference in just each movie is how I take on the characters or the story at the time. I really hope the audience could still feel the heartwarming, beautiful aspect of my film.
You spoke about how awesome the food sequences are and the characters adore meat. Can you speak to your own love of meat and if you have a favorite?
Like the characters, I like to eat too. I think the steaks in America are really great and I’d like to go back and eat some more.
Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko has done so well on the festival circuit and is now getting a theatrical release in North America. How rewarding is it knowing that your art is being enjoyed by the entire world and reaching so many?
So this movie doesn’t depict anything special, you know? It’s a very normal, ordinary life, and maybe the simplicity is why it’s so loved globally. But also, that simplicity is what I really wanted the audience to feel and enjoy. So I really hope that they continue to like it.