In 2019, the discovery of Children of the Sea, a marvelous oceanographic fable with impressive formal luxuriance, was enough to put the name of its mastermind, Japanese Ayumu Watanabe, 55, on the world animation map. . His new feature film, once again produced with the atypical Studio 4°C, confirms the personal touch of this director who, before taking action, waited a long time in commissioned works (notably on the very popular Doraemon series and its mascot robot cat). Adapted from an eponymous novel by Kanako Nishi, La chance sourit à madame Nikuko takes the marked path of provincial teenage chronicles, but is distinguished by its ambition to give flesh to an eccentric character, seen through the eyes of his daughter.
Although they share the same first name, the Kikurin schoolgirl does not recognize much in her mother, a strong woman with a gluttonous appetite and a jovial character, whom she sometimes imagines in her daydreams in the form of a Roast beef. An overflowing and noisy nature, Mrs. Nikuko is one of those who stand out, going against social conventions. Heart of artichoke fooled by men and burdened with debts, the matron has traveled for a long time, her daughter under her arm, before settling in the small fishing port where she works as a waitress in a restaurant. Faced with this anti-model that takes up all the space, Kikurin grows up quietly and is slow to assert itself: its slender silhouette and its natural reserve throwing trouble on its genealogy.
What the film deals with is the question of normativity, an insidious social force, at work even in the most informed eyes, and which sometimes comes to insinuate itself into the heart of the closest relationships. He thus works on feelings that are anything but obvious, such as the shame or repugnance one may feel towards one’s parents. Ayumu Watanabe turns this question into an animation issue: how to represent the dissident body in a graphic field where the rigid canons of slender silhouettes with large doe eyes reign? By making them come out of their hinges under the effect of caricature. The matron is thus sketched, not without cruelty, like a grotesque, desperately trivial bibendum (her daughter compares her to Totoro, Miyazaki’s big cat). Just like the character of Ninomiya, classmate of Kikurin suffering from tics, and whose face suddenly deforms under the influence of grimaces, like a toon.
The exuberance of Mrs. Nikuko reflects on the small world around, moreover depicted with scrupulous realism, thanks to splendid decorations whose animators have endeavored to underline the grain of wear, the patina of time. If most of the film is devoted to human relationships, like the shifting sensations that grip adolescence, it happens that Kikurin lends voice to animals or repaints everyday life in the colors of a dream.
Ayumu Watanabe is above all an artist of the line, seeking everywhere the right balance between clarity and expressiveness. If his humor sometimes has a hard tooth with the plump, somewhat ridiculed mother, he reserves for his heroine a sparkling ancestry: a touching affair of flouted women, united against the rest of the world.