April 4, 2023
“Miss Hokusai” (© 2014-2015 Hinako Sugiura・MS.HS / Sarusuberi Film Partners)

• Film Review

By Diana Cheng

CALGARY (Oct. 24, 2016) — “Miss Hokusai” is an anime feature film based on the late Hinako Sugiura’s historical manga “Sarusuberi.”

With this feature, acclaimed Japanese director Keiichi Hara garnered yet another accolade, winning the Annecy International Animation Film Festival’s Jury Award in 2015. Just a few years ago there in 2011, he had won the Jury Distinction and the Audience Award with “Colorful”. “Miss Hokusai” is Hara’s first collaboration with Tokyo-based studio Production G. I.

Miss Hokusai is the daughter of the famous Japanese artist of the Edo period, Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), or Tetsuzo as he was commonly called. Hokusai is perhaps most well-known for his woodblock print “The Great Wave Off Kanagawa”. Renowned in his own country as a great artist during his time, decades later, Europe would come to know Tetsuzo’s immense talent. Among his admirers included Degas, Van Gogh, Monet and Klimt.

Thanks to the manga’s acclaimed female creator, Hinako Sugiura, who specialized in the history of the Edo period, director Keiichi Hara has crafted an exquisite feature that presents the unique perspective of a historic heroine, the painter Hokusai’s own talented daughter O-Ei. Often finishing her father’s work for him and painting from her own imagination, O-Ei is a budding artist in her own rights. In the animation feature, we see that despite her precarious position living under the shadow of an iconic artist father, O-Ei remains bold, independent, curious, passionate and caring, an empowering female figure that defies traditions and expectations.

“Miss Hokusai” (© 2014-2015 Hinako Sugiura・MS.HS / Sarusuberi Film Partners)

“Miss Hokusai” is a sumptuous film. Other than depicting a rich array of characters, its animation takes on unusual angles, offering viewers with varied perspectives. From the very beginning it captures and leads.

The film starts with an impressive scene wherein first we see a single brush stroke, as the view zooms out overhead, like a camera’s crane shot moving out, we find it is Hokusai holding a large broom-like brush painting in a public place outdoor, still moving further away, we see his larger-than-life work of a Dharma on a huge piece of paper on the street, a crowd of admirers looking on. The diverse angles present a myriad of viewpoints, as if leading us to ponder on the complexity of the characters. These are not merely comic book or cartoon figures, but seem like real-life human beings struggling with their own demons.

The city of 1814 Edo (now Tokyo) may be a bustling hub as the film begins, we are soon looking into the reality of a broken family. O-Ei lives with her father in a messy studio, makeshift as a home, while her mother lives apart, alone, divorced from her husband. As the story moves on, we see a deep sadness in a younger sister, O-Nao, blind and vulnerable, living separately with a caregiver, all but abandoned by her father.

In O-Ei we see an empowering portrait of a brave, young woman in the traditional Edo period. She behaves and thinks contrary to customs, charts her own course, confronts anyone she disagrees with, follows her own artistic passion, and still have the tender heart to care for her blind, younger sister.

Director Keiichi Hara does not shy away from showing us the weaker side of a great and famous artist, his fears in accepting and embracing a handicapped and ill daughter. O-Ei understands him well, and stands in between her father and her younger sister O-Nao, like the bridge they go on to watch the world go by. O-Ei loves O-Nao, and cushions her from the cold avoidance of their father.

Beauty and sadness mark this complex animation, which is a rare find, unlike what we are used to seeing in North America. “Miss Hokusai” deals with mature themes such as personal responsibility, love, sexuality, death, life after death, heaven and hell. It tickles with magical realism, explores the human creative spirit, and showcases the fine brushstrokes of Japanese fine artistry. The storytelling is exquisite with luminous animations, stylish and moving. A rare gem of a feature animation.

Exclusive engagement of this award-winning animation will open at Landmark Theatre in Twin Cities coming Friday, Oct. 28.

Diana Cheng AAP film reviewer

Contact Diana Cheng on Twitter @Arti_Ripples or through her blog Ripple Effects, rippleeffects.wordpress.com.

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