Movie review of “Miss Hokusai”: This exquisitely rendered anime movie tells the tale of a gifted female artist living in the shadow of her famous father in 19th-century Japan. Rating: 3.5 stars out of 4.
The play of shadows across a face. Concealing. Revealing. Highlighting. Obscuring.
In “Miss Hokusai,” directed by Keiichi Hara from a screenplay by Miho Maruo, light and darkness are artfully manipulated to tell a tale of a woman painter creating her art in the shadow of a more famous artist — her father.
Derived from a 1980s manga-comic-book series by Hinako Sugiura, which was in turn based on the life of Japan’s most famous artist, Hokusai (1760-1849), this anime masterpiece set in 1814 in the city of Edo (present-day Tokyo) is an exquisitely rendered speculation on the less-known life of the man’s third daughter, O-Ei.
Movie Review ★★★½
‘Miss Hokusai,’ with the voices of Anne Higashide, Yutaka Matsushige, Shion Shimizu, Gaku Hamada. Directed by Keiichi Hara, from a screenplay by Miho Maruo. 90 minutes. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material including sexual situations and images. In Japanese, with English subtitles. Several theaters.
Strong-willed yet conflicted about her relationship to her father, she’s an accomplished painter in her own right but waits in vain for Hokusai to praise her work. He tells her she’s skilled at drawing females but that her paintings lack sensuality and genuine emotion. At the same time, under his supervision, she produces paintings that are presented to the public as having been rendered by the master himself.
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She is, therefore, a troubled character, guarded with others. Well, almost all others. With her young, blind, sweet-spirited sister, O-Nao, she is warmly protective and loving.
The picture is a visual feast. From its rendering of flickering candlelight playing across O-Ei’s face as she intently wields her brush at her studio work bench, to the slate-gray skies of a snowy day, to a single crimson blossom symbolizing the vibrant life force of one of the characters, “Miss Hokusai” dazzles the eye.
It references Hokusai’s world-famous painting “The Great Wave” by setting O-Ei and O-Nao afloat in a boat amid that wave in a tempest, and references, too, a bridge prominent in his work in which the sights and sounds of passers-by provide artistic inspiration for O-Ei and delight the senses of her blind sister.
There is magic in the air in the form of a dragon whose only visible feature is glowing yellow eyes, and magic, too, in paintings that haunt those who view them.
The spell “Miss Hokusai” casts is a powerful one that lingers long after the lights go up in the theater.