Miss Hokusai is the story of the daughter of one of Japan’s most infamous painters. It is based on the series Sarusuberi by Hinako Sugiura. Young O-Ei and her father live in Edo, Japan in a day of traditional dress and subservient women. Her father, known best as the painter Hokusai, takes on students in their small home. Though he gives her the least praise, O-Ei is one of his very best students. She often finishes her father’s paintings, and publishes portraits, dragons paintings, and erotica under her father’s name. In public, O-Ei is shy and reserved. In private, she speaks her mind to her father and smokes a pipe while she paints and talks with the men. As she learns to paint for herself, she also must compete with the culture, her sister’s illness, and expectations on women of the day.
Miss Hokusai is a stunningly gorgeous film. Sequences featuring demons, ghosts, and sudden dragons, weave in and out of daily life for O-Ei. Her younger sister is blind after an illness, and easily exhausted. O-Ei takes her sister out and explains things to her, so that she might experience them. Sadly, their father is afraid of illness and death, and the great Hokusai finds himself unable to go to his youngest.
Though animated, Miss Hokusai is definitely not for younger viewers. There is one particular sequence where O-Ei goes to a brothel in an attempt to understand the concept of sensuality, which her publisher says is missing from her erotic works. The scene is intentionally awkward and sexual, making it not appropriate to watch at work of if younger viewers are hanging about.
Miss Hokusai is an absolute must for fans of Japanese art and culture, as well as those looking for a film about an independent woman who holds her own, even when culture tells her she must be something else.
The film is now in theaters for limited release.