The Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme is back, and yesterday I went to see a film called Miss Hokusai (百日紅), directed by Keiichi Hara (原 恵一).
Set in early 19th century Japan – and based on the original 1980’s manga series Sarusuberi by female artist Hinako Sugiura – this award-winning animation brings to life the story of Oei, a free-spirited woman overshadowed by her larger-than-life artist father; the ukiyo-e master and printmaker, Katsushika Hokusai.
Though hardly a household name to Western audiences, Katsushika Hokusai (referred to as Tetsuzo by his inner circle) was responsible for creating what is arguably the most widely reproduced piece of Japanese art – The Great Wave Off the Coast of Kanagawa (the iconic azure swell gets a visual wink in the film). Producing dazzling works for powerful clients, he was assisted at the time by his talented and outspoken daughter Oei, who not only helps her father in the workshop but is also often left to deal with matters at home such as regularly visiting her mother and younger sister. With her motto “With 2 brushes and 4 chopsticks, we’ll get by anywhere” she shows in both her determination and also the way she sees herself as an equal partner to her erratic father that she is a worthy inheritor of both his stubbornness and his talent – a combination that makes her art so powerful that it soon leads her into trouble.
Creating a wonderfully detailed recreation of 19th Century Edo life through combining hand-drawn 2D with 3D techniques, the film scooped three awards at the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal, including the Satoshi Kon Award for best animated feature film. (Watershed)
As a fan of ukiyo-e (浮世絵) artist Hokusai (葛飾 北斎) and a fan of animated films that take me back to a Japan of long ago, this was just my kind of movie. The art was gorgeous, and the soundtrack was pretty cool too. As well as some atmospheric traditional Japanese music, the soundtrack also included ‘Saihate ga Mitai’ (‘I Want to See the Farthest Reaches’) by Sheena Ringo (椎名 林檎). This Japanese trailer includes a sample of the song:
I knew nothing of Hokusai’s daughter Katsushika Oei (or Oi) (葛飾 応為) before, and had no idea she was an artist in her own right, known simply as Sakae (栄). In the film we see her going to the Yoshiwara (吉原), the pleasure district in Edo, to sketch courtesans – something I wouldn’t have even thought a woman would have been allowed to do in 19th century Japan. One of her most famous pieces is ‘Yoshiwara Night Scene’:
I also had no idea that Hokusai had a daughter who acted as production assistant on some of his major works. In fact, the way the films portrays it, it would seem she worked harder than her father at times.
I haven’t read the manga series Miss Hokusai was based on, but judging it purely as the film it is I would have to say I loved it. Not only is the story interesting and at times surreal (some of Hokusai’s ‘yokai’ (ghosts/monsters) are included too), the setting is simply beautiful. I felt like I was transported back to 19th century Edo, especially with the street scenes featuring Nihonbashi (日本橋), then known as ‘Edobashi’, the bridge that was so famously at the centre of the merchant district of Edo.
Here’s the English trailer:
To find out more about the films showing as part of the Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme, visit the official website: www.jpf-film.org.uk