Starring: Anne Watanabe, Yutaka Matsushige, Gaku Hamada
Director: Keiichi Hara
Running Time: 93 mins
Miss Hokusai is a Japanese film about Katsushika O-Ei, daughter of famed ukiyo-e painter Katsushika Hokusai, and her experiences living in Edo-era Tokyo alongside her masterful father.
Above all, Miss Hokusai does exactly what anime is so good at, and that’s make an absolutely beautiful visual experience thanks to its exquisite animation style throughout. However, it’s all a little bit too much style over substance, and while the wonderful visuals work brilliantly to make for a pleasant watch, there’s not much of a riveting or emotionally affecting story beneath the surface, and it makes for a rather dull watch in the end.
But let’s start on the bright side, with the animation. The way so many modern animes are animated is absolutely beautiful to behold, having a genuine sense of artistry that’s been lost in Hollywood ever since Disney moved onto computer animated films from its traditional animation style.
However, what makes Miss Hokusai even more visually splendorous is the fact that it mimicks the classic style of ukiyo-e painter Katsushika Hokusai (famed for paintings such as The Great Wave) in numerous sequences, bringing his images to life in a dynamic and whole new way that’s really exciting to see on screen.
Also, the film does a fantastic job at portraying Edo-era Japan, with extreme attention to detail taken in the drawing of local streets and houses, as well as some of the characters’ exquisite outfits, and it all comes together to make the film look just as beautiful as a classic painting throughout.
Despite all that, however, I still can’t say that Miss Hokusai is the world’s greatest film, or even anime, simply because it really falls down when it comes to the story side of things. Visually wonderful it may be, but that alone just isn’t enough to make for a genuinely engrossing watch over the course of an hour and a half, and the weak story is why the film ultimately proves a lot duller than it really should have been.
The whole historical context is interesting at first, while the exquisite depiction of Edo keeps you interested in that side of the story, but what Miss Hokusai really doesn’t do is give you anything deeper or more personal to cling onto, and there enlies its downfall.
Despite focusing on a fairly likable central character in the strong-willed, talented and still very kind O-Ei, the story really misses the mark in giving her any real development or conflict throughout the film. While there are of course ups and downs, she seems a little too able to ride everything out without a thought, and that means that what is meant to be more powerful drama just isn’t as emotionally engaging as it should be, which was a real shame to see.
On the whole, I was disappointed by Miss Hokusai. Visually, it is absolutely wonderful, and the perfect film for anyone with a love for classical Japanese art, or even just good animation. However, a 93 minute painting isn’t always the perfect recipe for a riveting watch, and the film’s lack of an emotionally riveting dramatic story means it’s a lot harder to stay fully interested throughout, which is why I’m giving it a 6.5 overall.