Miss Hokusai (2016) review
Effortlessly Captures the Beauty of Art
Katsushika Hokusai was a Japanese artist from Edo (now Tokyo), Japan. As an ukiyo-e painter, he is known best for creating the woodblock print series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, which includes the influentially renowned piece The Great Wave off Kanagawa. Miss Hokusai is an anime film based on Hokusai’s life (referred to mostly as Tetsuzo throughout the film) told from the perspective of his daughter O-Ei, who was also a very talented artist who followed in her father’s footsteps.
From director Keiichi Hara (Colorful, Summer Days with Coo), a screenplay written by Miho Maruo (Tottoko Hamutaro), and the anime studio Production I.G. (the studio behind the Ghost in the Shell franchise, FLCL, Attack on Titan, and many other amazing anime titles), Miss Hokusai is an anime film based on the Japanese historical manga series of the same name by Hinako Sugiura. The manga includes a series of unconnected short stories, so the anime follows a similar pattern. Keiichi Hara made the decision for the anime film to revolve around Hokusai’s daughter O-Ei since her role expanded as the manga series moved forward. The film also includes original sequences not included in the manga.
“With two brushes and four chopsticks, we’ll get by anywhere.”
O-Ei and her father are peculiar individuals. They’re both extremely talented artists with impressive followings, but their lives are wholly and completely devoted to their craft. They don’t cook or clean and they tend to just move on if their living situation gets too messy. O-Ei lives in her father’s shadow and she’s sick of everything that comes with that; living up to his reputation, her work constantly being compared to his, and people expecting a certain result out of her that she may or may not live up to. She’s also completely disillusioned with her father’s public reputation. O-Ei has a younger sister named O-Nao who is extremely sick and cursed with blindness. Tetsuzo refuses to have anything to do with O-Nao, which angers O-Ei and it seems like she tries to spend as much time as possible with O-Nao to make up for her father’s ignorance.
The biographical animated film has a loose storytelling style since the stories it’s based on have little to no connection to one another. While the narrative may feel a bit aimless at times, Miss Hokusai is bridged together by its deep understanding of how poignant art as a whole can be. The film dives into the art behind the art form of painting and creating art. There’s a natural beauty behind painting dragons with a particular mindset the artist has to be in in order for it to come out properly, there’s more craftsmanship and respect found in creating erotica than you may think, different art styles are incorporated throughout the film (the hand story), various forms of computer generation (the boat ride under the bridge, the town as O-Ei runs through it to catch a glimpse of the firemen at work) seamlessly blend with traditional animation, and even the sound is tweaked in a way that makes you understand how O-Nao views the world (snow absorbing sound, wooden shoes clip-clopping against the ground).
This artistic journey won’t appeal to everyone. Most stories are bridged together by a painting gig, the love of two sisters, or the competition one faces as an artist. You fall in love with the dog that sticks around despite the cold behavior of Tetsuzo and O-Ei, but while chronological the storyline becomes secondary to the art this family creates and the impact it leaves on Japan and beyond not only in 1814 but in the modern day. This is the type of experience that is meant to trigger that little switch inside of you that inspires you to create something if you’re gifted with the talent to do so. If you look at Miss Hokusai from that wondrous perspective, then it absolutely succeeds on every level.
Miss Hokusai is presented as a freshly finished painting on the verge of becoming a masterpiece. Art, in general, is a reflection of the artist, what they see, and how they feel. Individuals who see their surroundings at face value only go so far. Imagination is essential to progressing as an artist. A wandering mind travels farther than one that stays stagnant. This is the type of film that will likely speak more to someone who has the urge to create something artistic or is talented in the craft in some capacity. Miss Hokusai bleeds style and grace from every frame to the extent that you can almost smell the ink as it’s pressed to a paper canvas. Life is art and art is life. If you don’t believe that, then this isn’t your type of film. For the imaginative and the admirers of the fantastical, Miss Hokusai is purely and spectacularly a work of art.