May 25, 2017

Miss Hokusai

Speaking as I was last week of art about artists being artists, Miss Hokusai is a fine addition to the genre (click image to enlarge).

Based on the manga by the late Hinako Sugiura, the film is episodic in nature, with no real plot or even much in the way of character development. Told from the perspective of O-Ei, Hokusai's elder daughter and an accomplished painter in her own right, it is series of vignettes about Hokusai, his two daughters, and his apprentice, living and working in Edo (Tokyo) during the first half of the 19th century.

If there is a theme to the movie, it concerns the limits of technical ability alone to produce great art (here also meaning that people will pay to see it). The much fabled eccentricity of the creative type thus reflects the ongoing struggle to resolve that conflict ("good artists copy; great artists steal").

But the setting is the real story. These slices-of-life take place in the surreal Edo of the popular period drama, untroubled by politics or the impending collapse of the Tokugawa regime (mentioned in an afterword). As with the imaginations of the characters, it is infused with magical realism, the threads of folk tales and religious figures winding through the fabric of the scenes, sketches, and anecdotes.

The title of the movie in Japanese is Sarusuberi (百日紅) or "crepe myrtle." The flower symbolizes the subtle tragic arc that bridges the narrative, though the matter-of-fact tone of the presentation never threatens to overwhelm us with emotion. Rather, the movie invites us to watch and observe and examine it like a painting. Whatever sentiment you wish to bring to the subject is entirely up to you.

Miss Hokusai is like a slow stroll through a stately old museum (whose director is doing his best to make it more "accessible"). Nobody is going to clobber you over the head with ART, but if you wish to look, it's hanging on the walls all around you to see.

The soundtrack on the GKids DVD defaults to a pretty good English dub version.

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