Katsushika Hokusai was one of the great painters of the Edo period in Japan, crafting brush paintings of erotica and most famously, “Thirty Six Views of Mount Fuji,” a collection which includes the iconic “The Great Wave off Kanagawa.” Miss Hokusai tells the story of Hokusai’s daughter, O-Ei, who has mostly faded from the historical record but was also a great painter in her own right. The film explores her relationship to her father, her artistry, and lightly imagines what life might have been like for this obscure artist living during the male-dominated Tokugawa Shogunate.
Based off Hinako Sugiura’s manga series, Keiichi Hara’s Miss Hokusai is a refreshingly female-centric look at an historical artist. The central character O-Ei (Anne Higashide) is an idiosyncratic, complex woman: she smokes, drinks, paints erotica that’d make most people of the period blush and doesn’t shy away from socializing with courtesans and drunkards. She’s demure in public (as Japanese etiquette dictates), but in private she’s outspoken and confident. O-Ei is thrillingly modern, perhaps even punk—a characteristic that Hara emphasizes by using guitar riffs to underscore her introduction. Miss Hokusai doesn’t play as a conventional biopic, but it does celebrate what a remarkable individual this artist must have been.
The film as a whole is not seamless. It’s episodic. There are inexplicable moments throughout, including an uncomfortable sex scene involving a transvestite courtesan. As well, the animation is overly rigid. It never achieves the looseness and spontaneity of Studio Ghibli, for instance.
But with such an intriguing character at its centre, and some lovely animation throughout, Miss Hokusai is a solid, mature work.