Director: Keiichi Hara
Starring: Anne Watanabe, Yutaka Matsushige, Kengo Kora, Miyu Irino, Jun Miho
Perhaps Japan’s most prolific painter, Hokusai (Matsushige) is an artist known the world over, most notably for his depiction of waves. In Edo Japan he lives an enigmatic existence with his daughter Ei (Watanabe), a formidable artist in her own right who is torn between her respect for the man who taught her art technique as well as her disdain for his utter lack as a father.
Production IG produces this absolutely beautiful animated film based on the historical manga by Hinako Sugiura. Director Hara, whose last feature Colorful was a beautiful character study wrapped in dogma, tackles the classic manga series and delivers an enthralling and extremely compelling feature. Like the source material, the film is broken up into a series of what are essentially vignettes concerning Ei’s life as an artist, a woman, and a daughter to who would be one of the most renowned artists in the world. From family issues like her sister, inspirational study in her work, and her love life (or lack thereof) are explored in this slice-of-life styled film that satisfies in oh so many levels.
Anne Watanabe, daughter of the prolific Ken, shines in her vocal performance as Ei; she is snappy towards her father but exudes a true kindness to those she cares about. As the title character she is always compelling and despite the lack of a real central narrative, the film perhaps ends all to quickly as you are left wanting more. Hokusai, played by personal favorite Yutaka Matsushige, is funny and terrific, his faults as a human on full display despite his almost preternatural ability as an artist. He isn’t a beast of a man or even a bad person, despite how my words make him seem, but he’s a truly character brought to life by an underrated actor.
The film carries some truly beautiful moments of animation that stretch from simplistic to expressive that had me living in the moment like the characters on screen. It’s a movie that feels true to life, moments of sadness next to joy, it’s heartfelt and true. Miss Hokusai is among the most beautiful anime features in the last decade. Absolutely worth a watch, it’s a film that can be enjoyed for its surface value but belies a deep and complex experience. Must watch.