Keiichi Hara’s MISS HOKUSAI
A movie review by Dennis D. McDonald
This animated film follows several days in the imagined life of the daughter of the famed Japanese artist Hokusai. He was responsible for the 1832 painting The Great Wave Off Kanagawa.
Miss Hokusai focuses less on him than on his daughter as she struggles to develop her own artistic talent while dutifully assisting her supremely artistic father.
This film is much more emotion-driven than Kaneto Shindô's Hokusai Manga. That film concentrated primarily on Hokusai’s artistic process. Here instead we observe as the daughter reveals both emotional complexity as well as immaturity in the ways of the world. Her father understands how this immaturity hobbles her development as an artist. He helps her, but not too much. He has his own career and devils to manage.
The movie is both episodic and mature. Above all it is visually entertaining but not because it is kaleidoscopic or spectacular. Instead it employs a calm and steady approach to its drawing and incorporates a subtle but rich color palette while the characters’ deftly drawn faces and hands reflect subtle emotions.
When necessary there are flights of fancy as spirits and ghosts are elicited by the characters’ varying reactions to Hokusai’s paintings. Overall we see a friendly but at times raw view of 19th-century Japanese city life. This might be more ordered than it was in reality but it provides a splendid backdrop for the emotional subtlety on display. In Miss Hokusai also we are entertained by lovely views of the city streets of old Edo at night.