Hokusai is a proper young lady, but she can draw dragons and courtesans just as
well as any man. She is her father’s daughter, after all. He would be Katsushika
Hokusai. Even if you do not know his name, you will recognize his most famous
work: The Great Wave Off Kanagawa. It
turns out his daughter wasn’t just a chip off the wood-cut block. She was
frequently an uncredited collaborator. Yet, she is never bitter, but rather pleasingly
assertive and altogether charming in Keiichi Hara’s anime adaptation of Hinako
Sugiura’s manga Miss Hokusai (trailer here), which screens
during the 2016 New York Asian Film Festival.
Hokusai is a remarkable artist, but he is also arrogant and aloof. His daughter
O-ei is pretty much the only other person he ever spares a thought for.
Unfortunately, that includes Miss Hokusai’s little sister, O-nai, who lost her
sight while still an infant and now lives a largely cloistered existence with
her mother. O-ei is a protective and encouraging sister, but their father barely
acknowledges the sickly younger sibling. She would force him to confront the
kind of reality he tries to avoid. O-ei makes no secret of her disappointment
in the shallow old man, but she stays in his untidy house, because of his
respect for her talent and her independence.
seems like this is the year of the tearjerker at NYAFF. If She Remembers, He Forgets and If Cats Disappeared from the World haven’t completely wrecked you yet, Miss Hokusai should pretty much finish you
off. It is tragic (in a way we can see coming like a Kanagawa tidal wave), but
wonderfully elegant. The protagonist is also worthy role model, who speaks her
mind and calls it like she sees it, but is always deeply compassionate and
humanistic. Her relationship with the innocent yet somewhat angst-ridden O-nai
is rendered with such sensitivity, it will just tear your heart out.
between the tear-jerking, Hara takes us on a slightly ribald tour of early Nineteenth
Century Edo. As seen from O-ei’s perspective, it looks like quite a fun town.
Apparently, erotica was the bread-and-butter of many artists of that period,
including Miss Hokusai, who is not bashful when it comes to commissions from
courtesans. Nor does screenwriter Miho Mauro’s adaptation shy away from gender
role hypocrisies. Frankly, in many ways, the film feels downright Victorian,
but it has a wonderfully honest and potent relationship at its center.
Miss Hokusai comes from the
great animation studio Production I.G, but it is worlds removed from their
signature franchises, such as Psycho-Pass
and Ghost in the Shell, following
more in-line with their endearing Letter to Momo (helmed by Hiroyuki Okiura). The film has such a rich,
sophisticated vibe, viewers walking in blind could easily be convinced it is
vintage Studio Ghibli or Don Bluth immediately post-Disney. It is just an
exquisitely lovely, emotionally mature film that is deeply satisfying precisely
because of the sadness in its soul. Very highly recommended for all audiences, Miss Hokusai screens this Sunday
afternoon (7/3) at the Walter Reade, as part of this year’s NYAFF.
Labels: Animated films, Anime, Japanese Cinema, NYAFF '16, Production I.G