Miss Hokusai is an anime film based on a manga by Hinako Sugiura that was released in 2015.
Directed by: Keiichi Hara
Written by: Miho Maruo
Starring: Yutaka Matsuhige, Anne Watanabe, Gaku Hamada, Kengo Kora, Jun Miho, Shion Shimizu, Michitaka Tsutsui, Kumiko Aso, Danshun Tatekawa
Run Time: 90 minutes
The film begins in 1814 (during the Edo period of Japan), and focuses on O-Ei, a daughter of a painter named Tetsuzo Hokusai. O-Ei herself is also an artist, and she’s just as obstinate as her father. Even though they’re both painters, you can tell that O-Ei feels distant from her father, which is made clear by the fact that she refers to him as “Tetsuzo” rather than “Father.” If Tetsuzo realizes he can’t finish a commissioned work on time, O-Ei finishes it off and never signs her name. Because of this, she doesn’t get any recognition for what she does. Just this dynamic alone makes it clear why O-Ei doesn’t have a close relationship with her father.
The film alternates episodes of the life O-Ei, her father, and the painters that visit them. Many of these stories also feature some kind of supernatural element. For example, one of the stories sees O-Ei, Tetsuzo, and Ikeda Zenjiro investigate a famous oiran in the Yoshiwara district whose astral head tries to leave her body. Another story focuses on the wife of a patron who is losing her mind because of a painting of Buddhist hell done by O-Ei, and Tetsuzo realizes why this is happening and fixes the situation. While not all of the stories presented in the film contain a supernatural element, quite a few of them do. And since there are various stories (or episodes) that appear throughout the film, it can feel more like a collection of short stories put together for a 90-minute runtime instead of an overarching story. Unfortunately, the drawback to this storytelling decision is that not many of the plot threads that are introduced are given the time to be developed as fully as they could be. But from what I’ve seen, it appears the original manga source material was presented in this same way. If Hara and Maruo didn’t feel comfortable trying to add to the scenes to try to flesh them out, then that could explain why there doesn’t feel like there’s an overarching story here.
Part of the film is also spent on O-Ei spending time with her blind half-sister, O-Nao. O-Nao has been blind and sickly since birth, and Tetsuzo, who is afraid of death and disease, never visits her. It’s during these moments with O-Nao that O-Ei is “humanized” to some extent. Around her father, she’s quite cold and aloof, and she can act awkwardly around people that she doesn’t know as well. At one point in the film, I really liked seeing O-Ei advocating for her sister when talking with their father at a point when O-Nao has gotten quite sickly. This relationship between the sisters plays an important role for the finale of the film.
We also see one of the painters that visits Tetsuzo develop a romantic interest in O-Ei, but she doesn’t feel the same way. We can see that she’s interested in someone else, although she tries hard to not to show this when she’s around him, which adds to the aloofness and awkwardness that O-Ei has already displays. When she finally works up the nerve to uncharacteristically dress up and invite him to go to a show with her, it doesn’t work out. Outside of this, though, O-Ei isn’t depicted as being overly interested in romantic relationships.
Tetsuzo can be a hard character to muster any sympathy for, due to his avoidance of O-Nao and how he expects O-Ei to do work from him but is constantly criticizing her work and her talent. Unfortunately, considering the time period that Miss Hokusai is set in, this would likely have been a realistic depiction for a person with his character traits. O-Ei may have her faults and was an unconventional person for her time period, but she’s still an engaging character and a protagonist that you want to watch and find out what happens to her.
It’s a little disappointing that film ends with O-Ei narrating what happens in the future for both Tetsuzo and herself, which is then followed by text on the screen to explain the last bit of O-Ei’s life, since it’s detailing a mystery surrounding O-Ei that wouldn’t be narrated by her. But considering what’s detailed in this narration, it wouldn’t have worked to try to animate what happened in the future. The narration and the on-screen text on the end was probably the easiest way to convey this information. At least it gives the audience some kind of closure.
When it comes to the animation, I thought it did a great job capturing the various environments and seasons that are depicted within the film. Also, it was obvious that care was taken when animating the various characters, and that their designs look like these characters belong in the Edo period that they’re living in. The look and feel of the animation meshes well with the story that Miss Hokusai is trying to tell.
The music, on the other hand, was kind of a mixed bag. For the opening credits, we have a modern-sounding rock soundtrack playing while seeing O-Ei walking around in Edo period Japan. The song sounded great, but it just felt out of place with the visuals that were on the screen. There are other moments in the film, however, where the soundtrack sounds like it could have come from Edo period Japan, but the production techniques for the music make it sound a little more modern.
Over the course of its 90-minute runtime, Miss Hokusai shows character growth for O-Ei through the various situations she goes through. If there’s anything “overarching” about this film, I would say that O-Ei’s character development would be it. Unfortunately, because the staff of the film chose to follow the storytelling structure of the original manga source material, none of the plots are really given enough time to be developed as fully as they could be.
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