Friday, November 11, 2016

REVIEW: Miss Hokusai

Thanks to a wider release, the latest film by 'Colourful' director, Keiichi Hara, adapting a manga by Hinako Sugiura, came to Toronto, and yours truly went to see it. My showing being the Japanese subtitled version.

Some expectations should be set, however, as the film's trailers may be misleading as to what you're actually getting.

If, like me, you were expecting a film that depicts the life and times of the famous artist Hokusai, (as seen through his daughter), or a film exploring the famous art of the Edo period and how and why it was created, in the style of a docu-drama, then you're going to be left disappointed.

The film is actually much smaller in scope, and looks at a chapter in the life of his daughter O-Ei. Primarily it's about the drama between her father and her blind sickly sister. Her father Hokusai, superstitious, afraid or perhaps ashamed, neglects his blind daughter. So it is up to O-Ei to simultaneously look after both her father and her sister while trying to bridge the gap between the two.

Of course some time is spent on a portion of both Hokusai and O-Ei's artwork, and how O-Ei works under her father's name. She also struggles to live up to her father's reputation, particularly when it comes to depicting works of sensuality, and through the course of the film she discovers further weaknesses in her artwork that she attempts to solve.

Aside from the drama which is quite mild, there are many moments of comedy provided by the supporting cast of characters. Moments the film shines are through flights into fantasy that illustrate emotion and mystery; even done so in a stylized manner depicting the illustrations of the Edo period. From the natural to the supernatural, between joy and tragedy, the story is also a 'coming-of-age' tale of O-Ei and her life as a female artist who must take on the roles of daughter, sister and mother when the situation arises.

The animation of the film is great work by Production I.G. The music has a strange quality where often a more modern BGM is chosen for a period piece. The film also ends on a strange note, and even taking the movie's story for what it is, you can't help but feel it could've been so much more.

One can't help but draw a comparison to another anime film in a similar vein, that being Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli's 'The Wind Rises' which also deals with a historical character, and also is primarily a drama about his life, but also gives the audience a fascinating look at him going from a young boy to an engineer and a very insightful depiction of the era he lived in and the work that goes into designing and creating military aircraft, and the themes of creation, love, tragedy and war.

It might be unfair to expect Hara and Production I.G. to live up to a master like Miyazaki who also smartly combined an unrelated love story into the work of 'The Wind Rises' to make a more entertaining film, but 'Miss Hokusai' could've benefited immensely if it approached its story in a similar manner showing us O-Ei growing up to becoming interested in her father's work and seeing the changing tapestry of the times of the Edo period and what drove its demand for art and the inspiration of its period's artists.

If you're looking for a movie that is more concerned with Hokusai and his art and the Edo period, then this isn't that movie. Though you will get a decent portrayal of the typical life of an artist living in that period, just nothing that in-depth about the process of creating art itself or the demand for certain works, particularly those that made Hokusai famous.

But if it's a small stylish dramatic character-driven period piece that you have in mind, then Miss Hokusai will be to your liking. So set your expectations accordingly in order to best enjoy it, though even then, you could still end up wishing for what this movie could've been instead of what you got.