Keiichi Hara’s episodic anime Miss Hokusai is a lovely biopic, even if it never quite picks up and focuses on a single thread. (Then again, neither does life.)
In nineteenth-century Edo, later to be renamed Tokyo, here a magical-realist city populated by demons and the occasional astral-projecting courtesan, Katsushika Hokusai (Yutaka Matsushige) is a famous artist whose woodblock print The Great Wave off Kanagawa you’ve surely seen. He’s also known for his erotica (in some circles, his hentai-progenitor The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife remains a favorite).
As the title implies, Miss Hokusai tells not his story so much as that of his daughter O-Ei (Anne Watanabe), who in a Big Eyes–type arrangement actually produces many of the works credited to him, including the smut.
Miss Hokusai works as a series of moments, mirroring the style of the source manga and driven home by the fact that many scenes fade to black, while the occasional bursts of rock music don’t mesh with the tone other than in one bravura tracking shot of O-Ei frantically running through the streets of Edo.
The most touching narrative involves O-Ei’s blind, terminally ill younger sister, O-Nao (Shion Shimizu); not only is she ignored by their father, she believes she’ll go to hell when she dies. It’s always tough being imperfect.
Directed by Keiichi Hara
Opens October 14, Angelika Film Center
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 12, 2016