Miss Hokusai: Meditations on Mortality & Art

In their endless pursuit of alternative storytelling, Amelia and Jeff stumbled onto a new gem: Miss Hokusai.

Keiichi Hara’s dizzyingly vibrant animated biopic, Miss Hokusai, follows the daughter of one of Japan’s most revered artists: Katsushika Hokusai, famous for “The Great Wave off Kanagawa” and “Thirty-Six Views of Mt. Fuji”. Seen through the lens of his daughter O-Ei Hokusai, the story unfolds through a series of slice-of-life vignettes in Edo period Japan.

Based on the non-linear manga series by Hinako Suigara’s, the story unfolds episodically. O-Ei searches for the sublime in her work, her blind younger sister searches for her father’s acceptance, and her father searches for the perfection in his own craft. They each live within the parameters set by society and their personal fears, yearning for validation that they may never receive. As time passes, we as the audience are left wondering –  will they ever get what they want?

The depiction of longing along with the changing of seasons are meticulously intertwined by Production IG. From the soft fall-off light of wood lanterns in the evening to the slashes of window light during an early afternoon, the environment mimics Hokusai’s own pieces by creating a narrative that is visually enthralling.

In contrast to most Western feature length films, Miss Hokusai does not deliver a plot driven narrative that wraps up nicely in an hour and half. Instead, the film offers brief glimpses into the lives of these characters without attempting to imbue particular meaning into their lives. Ultimately, viewers are left to decide for themselves what has transpired since the moment O-Ei first stepped onto the bridge. What is guaranteed from this film is a culturally-steeped and atmospheric tale of art, religion, mythology and most important of all – family.

While still enjoyable without context, the experience of watching Miss Hokusai is greatly enhanced by doing some research about Katsushika Hokusai himself and the Edo period. For New Yorkers, although the film was released on October 14th, it is still currently playing at the Angelika Film Center on 18 West Houston Street.

By Jeffrey Wu (Generasian’s former media department chair)

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