HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: Miss Hokusai
HTS Overall Score:84
It’s a rare thing that Gkids animation department puts out a film that’s actually based upon a real-life person. Or at least off of a more down to earth iteration of a real-life person instead of some fantastical mythological take on ancient folk lore. Some of you may remember the famous Japanese paining “The Great Wave of Kanagawa”, drawn by the venerable Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai back in about 1830. Well, “Miss Hokusai” is adapted from a manga story that chronicles the life and times of his daughter, O-Ei (voiced by Anne Watanabe) in a very down to earth “slice of life” manner. I’ve never personally read the manga (even tough now I’m definitely intrigued), but the animated film is very simple, yet strangely complex, story that allows the viewer to just hang around for the ride and watch as O-Ei comes into her own as an artist, same as her father. It’s not going to be something that wildly shocks the viewer, or carries your standard three act plot, but it is fascinating nonetheless.
The film makes the assumption that Hokusai and his daughter O-Ei were in fact painting collaborators and compatriots. Hokusai as the experienced master, with O-Ei as the up and coming apprentice. The two lived alone, as most artist do, and spent time churning out all sorts of art for courtesans and other high paying clients. Some of it is the famous Japanese erotica (although nothing is ever shown except a brief glimpse of a sketch), and the father/daughter team each has their own unique style about the art they create. Hokusai is much more attuned to detail, and has a knack for creating visually scintillating material that oozes sensuality. O-Ei tends to be more technical in her art and can’t seem to capture the emotion and raw sensuality that her father seems to exude.
I’d be lying to you if I said that “Miss Hokusai” has some overarching plotline that has a beginning, middle and end. It’s much more an “experience” when you watch the film, allowing yourself to just watch as O-Ei and her father go about their daily lives. Things come, things go, things happen, things don’t, and none of them are truly imperative to understanding the movie. Instead it’s more fascinating to watch and listen as you see the little character nuances here as Hokusai deals with a mystically powered painting, as well as O-Ei’s mild romantic dallying’s with another artist that is smitten with her. If there was anything that I would say is a MUST for the storyline, it is the relationship between Hokusai and his other family, as he not only has O-Ei, but also a sick daughter and aging wife whom he doesn’t have much to do with due to Hokusai’s shame at his youngest daughter’s sickness. Unfortunately, this portion of the movie is only given a brief glance, something which I felt would have been better to ease into and spend more time with instead of just having a 20 minute section of the film devoted to it.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=92746[/img]“Miss Hokusai” is a bit different than most of the Gkids films that are put out, but it reminds me heavily of “A Wind Rises”, Miyazaki’s last film before retirement. Although I would have to say that the quality of the work isn’t as fine-tuned as Miyazaki’s experienced hand. Still, director Keiichi Hara paints a wonderfully warm and vibrant picture of the famed artist's daughter and her coming of age in an artistic sense. Much of the joy derived from the picture is from us watching O-Ei grow and change as the film goes on. You see her in the prime of her life (before she vanished into history after just getting up and vanishing one day), but also just before she has gained the skill necessary to truly be independent from her father’s shadow.
As much as I love most of “Miss Hokusai”, it is also a bit slow paced and there are a few scenes that really could have been fleshed out some more. The more mystical elements of the story (such as the haunted woman and her painting) aren’t the problem, but rather scenes that are jarring and out of place. The two most egregious being the attempted “wooing” by the courtesan that O-Ei visits (almost an attempted assault if you ask me) and the fleshing out of Hokusai’s relationship with O-Ei’s sister and mother. Something which was almost confusing it’s so suddenly inserted into the film. Usually I tend to think most films need some fat trimmed off the runtime, but this go around I felt that another 20 minutes of material would have helped the flow a good bit.
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material including sexual situations and images
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=92754[/img]Universal’s 1.85:1 avc encoded Blu-ray is nothing short of magnificent. The Gkids lineup always looks good on Blu-ray, but Universal has pulled out the stops with that is combined with some seriously lovely looking animation (including an adaptation of Hokusai’s most famous painting at one point). The colors are lush and rich, with brilliant greens and soft blues and purples mixed with all sorts of wonderfully shaded items. The dimly lit shack that Hokusai and O-Ei live in looks much more earthy and brown tinged, while the rich upscale living quarters of the courtesans show much more color variation. Fine detailing on the artwork is jaw dropping, with individual hand painted lines making up the animation (something which happens less and less these days). Black levels maintain strong quality with no signs of artifacting or digital banding anywhere to be seen. In short, a perfect picture.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=92762[/img]“Miss Hokusai” sports a pair of 5.1 DTS-HD MA tracks on the disc. Both being the natural English and Japanese dubs for those who prefer one or the other. Myself personally, I feel the edge goes to the Japanese track as I’m a purist, but the English dub is actually quite well done. I begrudgingly have to tip my hat to the English voice acting team as they have come a long way since I was a teenager listening to dubs (horrible things). Upon comparing the two I find that there is little difference between the tracks except for the dialog. The background sounds and the score are just about identical, with no fluctuations or quality differences between the two. Vocals are crisp and cleanly replicate, while the music flows through all six channels with grace. The LFE adds some punch to the music, but it’s a fairly laid back affair in comparison to some others. The real joy is listening to the well placed directional cues as birds chirp in the background, or you’re privy to the rustling sounds of clothing as Hokusai moves from one portion of his studio to the next. The little background details just make the track that much more immersive and one of my recent favorites for being so detailed.
• "The Making of Miss Hokusai"
“Miss Hokusai” is one of those films that is best served with context. If you have knowledge of Katsushika Hokusai and his daughter O-Ei, then you’ll get more out of the viewing. However, this does not mean that virgin viewers will not be able to enjoy the film. It’s still a fascinating coming of age tale with a slice of life storytelling style that is wonderfully animated. It’s not as good as much of the Studio Ghibli works, but Keiichi Hara makes for a visually mesmerizing experience. The audio and video are nothing short of jaw dropping, but sadly extras are minimal. Definitely worth checking out though.
Starring: Anne Watanabe, Kengo Kora, Gaku Hamada
Directed by: Keiichi Hara
Written by: Hinako Sugiura, Miho Maruo
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1, Japanese DTS-HD MA 5.1
Runtime: 92 Minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: March 7th, 2017
Buy Miss Hokusai On Blu-ray at Amazon
Recommendation: Great Buy
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