Directed by Keïchi Hara, “Miss Hokusai” is an animated biopic or, at least, that’s what is meant to be. Miss Hokusai is Katsushika O-Ei, the daughter of Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1489), the renowned Japanese artist and this is her story. Her mother was the second wife of Hokusai and it is said she was born around 1800. She was a production assistant of her father, but she was also an accomplished ukiyo-e artist. Ukiyo-e (in translation “pictures of the floating world”) is a popular art genre in Japan, in Edo Period. The artists produced woodblock prints and paintings inspired by the everyday life, history or folk tales, having as key subjects female beauties, kabuki actors or landscapes.
The only information regarding the Japanese master, Hokusai, is given to us at the beginning and the end of the movie by O-Ei standing on the bridge. We find out that he was a “strange old man”, able to paint either on very big paper format or very little medium like the grain of rice, not interested in anything else besides painting and judging by his erotic drawings he must have liked women. He planned to live more than 100 years, but lasted only 90 saying very serious that he needed just 5 more years to become a real artist. We also find out that O-Ei got married once, but it didn’t lasted, and lived with her father until his death. This is all the practical information we receive.
The rest of the movie is like a daily journal of O-Ei, documenting her walks, her work and the time she spent with her little blind sister, O-Nao, showing her the world through the senses. O-Ei was a very independent spirit, smoking pipe while sketching, struggling under the big influence of her father, who sold her paintings as his own.
The film is an anime film, inspired by the Japanese historical manga series created by Hinako Sugiura. It all seems to be a great mix of yokai spirits, dragons, conniving tradesmen, of moments of life, art works and rock music. It’s not very fluid, jumping from one moment to another, leaving traces of ideas here and there. Also, it’s not very consistent, not following one narrative line from beginning to end and it all seems very confusing. In the end you realize that you didn’t found out much about the key characters. It could have been an animated series, developing one idea at a time.