Writer: Miho Maruo, Hinako Suguira (comic)
Cast: Anne Watanabe, Yutaka Matsushige, Shion Shimizu, Kumiko Aso
Running time: 93mins
What’s the story: In 1814 Edo (now Tokyo) 50 year old artist Tetsuzo casually produces masterpieces, assisted by his daughter O-Ei. Using the vibrant city, its inhabitants, the seasons and superstitions they create works of art revered to this day.
What’s the verdict: Don’t worry if you have never heard of Japanese artist Tetsuzo, or his most famous assumed name Katsushika Hokusai. You will be familiar with his wood block print The Great Wave Off Kanagawa. It’s that striking flat perspective view of a giant blue wave engulfing fishing boats that adorns everything from mugs to mouse pads to many a student bedroom wall.
Keiichi Hara’s delightful film, based on Hinako Suguira’s 1980s comic, focusses on Tetsuzo’s 23-year-old eldest daughter O-Ei. Supremely talented in her own right, she spent most of her life officially assisting her father, but many of his works are likely to be the result of their creative partnership.
Aping the vignette style of the original comic, Miss Hokusai breathes real life into its characters through gentle, warm scenes of everyday life in a stunningly well realised 19th century Tokyo.
O-Ei and her blind, sick sister soaking up the atmosphere on the city’s main bridge or walking through a snowy park are but two confidently tranquil scenes that immerse you in this rich and rewarding tale.
Elsewhere, the importance of superstition and tradition on the father and daughter’s work (and Japanese life in general) are evoked through striking fantasy sequences, the film not afraid to slip in supernatural moments.
Holding this together is the character of O-Ei. Independent, resilient and a match for her stubborn dad, she is an anime heroine to savour. Whether tending to her ailing sister or awkwardly discovering sensuality through a visit to a local geisha impersonator, O-Ei is a fascinating character, reminiscent of the women in the films of the great melodrama director Mikio Naruse.
Visually, this may be a contender for most beautiful animated movie of the year. Hara and his team paint Edo as a riot of orange, reds and blues, with a time out for hushed scenes of a winter white, creating a living, breathing city.
Only his choice of occasional incongruous rock music on the soundtrack (a nod to Suguira’s habit of listening to it while drawing the comic) is ill-advised.
But, it shouldn’t stop you from seeking out this gorgeous movie.