Miss Hokusai Review
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Some animated films are like a beautiful, moving, talking work of art—frame after frame of striking images. But the Japanese animated film Miss Hokusai is more than just a work of art; it’s a work of art about a famous artist and the girl who lived in both his home and his shadow.

Miss Hokusai explores the day-to-day life of O-Ei (voiced by Anne Watanabe), the daughter of the renowned Japanese artist Hokusai (Yutaka Matsushige), in the summer of 1814. O-Ei lives with her famous father and his drunken artist friend, often helping her father complete his paintings. She’s even known as a talented artist on her own, though she’s sometimes criticized for her naiveté. And while her father and his friends enjoy their wild lifestyle, O-Ei enjoys visits with her mother and her blind younger sister, O-Nao (Shion Shimizu), who shows her a very different side of life.

Miss Hokusai isn’t an especially thrilling film; in fact, there isn’t much of a story to it. It simply follows O-Ei from one experience to another: meeting with publishers, walking along a busy bridge with her sister, or working on one of her father’s paintings. It’s more of a series of snippets of the character’s life than a cohesive story with a beginning, middle, and end.

In that way, it can be a maddening film. You may find yourself trying to figure out where the story is going—or what kind of point it’s trying to make—but you won’t really succeed, since it’s all quite hazy and uneven. And each new random anecdote will leave you even more perplexed.

The characters, too, can be aggravating—especially O-Ei’s father, the great artist, who spends much of the film scowling and disregarding his daughters. Though he is eventually given a little more depth—and maybe some heart, too—toward the end, it isn’t easy to like such a gruff, straight-faced, and often disapproving character.

The highlight of the film, however, is its animation. It’s only fitting, after all, that a film about an artist would be so artistic. And from its period touches to its bustling village settings and natural landscapes to its depictions of the characters’ paintings, it’s certainly a striking work of animated art.

Miss Hokusai is loaded with interesting cultural touches—and it’s beautifully animated, too. If that’s enough for you, you’ll want to seek it out. But if you’re looking for a satisfying story, you’ll be disappointed—and most likely confounded, too.

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