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Director: Keichii Hara
Release Date:
May 9, 2015
Rating:
 ★★½
Review:

Based on a manga from the mid-1980s by Hinako Sugiura ‘Miss Hokusai’ is one of those rare animation films unquestionably directed to an adult audience. The film celebrates Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) and his daughter, fellow artist Katsushika Ōi (ca. 1800-ca. 1866), whose art matches her father’s.

The film is no biopic, however, only spanning a short time, when Ōi is ca. twenty years old. Moreover, the film consists of a multitude of short scenes, mostly seemingly unrelated and hardly building a story. For example, there are two artists romantically interested in Ōi, but this amounts to no romance. Ōi seems vaguely interested in her own sexuality, but also this theme is hardly worked out.

The most substantial story line is that of Ōi’s younger stepsister O-Nao, who is blind, and whom Hokusai refuses to visit. However, there’s no real story arc, and the film fades in and out without much conflict or personal progress. Emotions remain understated throughout, and it’s telling that the film’s most delightful scene involves a boy playing with O-Nao in the snow, a scene in which Ōi hardly takes part.

It doesn’t help that Ōi mostly is a taciturn, frowning, and uninviting character, who rarely smiles. Her father is more colorful, but cold, selfish and equally clammed-up and phlegmatic. Neither of the two is very sympathetic, and the charm of the film lies not particularly with these characters, but with a series of supernatural events related to Hokusai’s art.

The other characters, mostly artists, are too sketchy to be of real interest. To Western viewers Totoya Hokkei, one of Hokusai’s students, is most interesting, for here’s a rare Japanese anime character actually depicted with slit eyes, depicting the epicanthic fold. There’s also a dog, which I guess, is supposed to be some sort of comic relief.

Above all, the film manages to paint a very lively portrait of Edo (19th century Tokyo), especially the busy Nihonbashi bridge, which is rendered beautifully with help of computer animation. This bridge takes a central place in the narrative, and the films starts and ends with it. Hokusai’s famous Great Wave off Kanagawa can also be seen briefly around the 21-minute mark. Computer animation is also used effectively in the scene in which Ōi runs through the nightly streets of Edo.

The traditional animation is fair, but not exceptional, and firmly rooted in Japanese anime traditions. The soundtrack uses very uninteresting modern music and is mostly at odds with the 19th century scenes.

In all, ‘Miss Hokusai’ is too fragmentary, too unfocused, and too bland to entertain. Both Hokusai and Ōi ultimately deserve better.

Watch the trailer for ‘Miss Hokusai’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Miss Hokusai’ is available on Blu-Ray and DVD

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