Perhaps a bit too fragmented if one were to go through the film with a fine tooth comb and choose to be nitpicky about the way the film has chosen to chronicle the life of Katsushika O-Ei, but otherwise Miss Hokusai honestly turned out to be a vastly satisfying, not to mention visually gorgeous experience. I was more or less determined to see this the minute I came across the poster art earlier this year. The evocative design that uses the famous Hokusai ukiyo-e woodblock print “The Great Wave off Kanagawa”as a background while mixing the forefront with images of the Edo period in simple but effective manner had me sold on the spot, later finding out Shiina Ringo performed the theme song and Production I.G was the studio behind the animation only enforced that decision.
You can tell this was a true labor of love, rather than a purely commercially driven endeavor. There is a massive attention put to detail and making the animation look especially good. The film truly is quite a sight to behold aesthetically. It has a vivid color pallet and fetching character design, and in the few instances of otherworldly occurrences that take place in the narrative, such as the dragon amidst the storm clouds or the ghost story toldabout the ethereal hands that at night leave the body, the film just looks absolutely fantastic. The line work, colorful presentation and smoothness is beautiful, only fitting for a film that centers around a great artists such as O-Ei and her father, Katsushika Hokusai.
You can tell this was adapted from a serialized manga due to the way the story unfolds. It’s very slice of life, more a collection of vignettes about O-Ei’s life with her artist father than an original manuscript building some kind of a encompassing and definite grand narrative summary of her life, but rather than being a clear weakness the director Hara Keiichi manages to turn that aspect into its greatest strength, right after the stunning visuals, of which I’ve already raved about. It’s a funny, cute, at times even emotionally touching story to watch. The few parts that involved O-Ei spending time with her younger, blind sister proved to be especially endearing.
As I already mentioned, the film does not contain a particular, concrete, larger than life story or a big central emotional (or) character based theme akin to what you might expect from most biographical films. Instead it does offer a pleasant, easy to digest andgorgeously illustrated tale about… art and artistic endeavor in particular. It’s quite nice in its simplicity and wholly satisfying in its aesthetic grandeur. It’s a film you walkaway from smiling, feeling as if you partook in an intimate and eye opening examination of the inner complexity and beauty of an exceptional woman.