Miss Hokusai is a anime about Katsushika Oi. Born O-Ei (Anne Watanabe) and her life as an artist during the Edo era in Japan. Her father Tetsuzo (Yutaka Matsushige), is a famous artist that works under the pseudonym of Hokusai. Hence the title.
Her life is like that of a traditional apprentice. She learns her trade and works under her father’s name. She doesn’t sign any of her own works because as great as she is, she is still Tetsuzo’s student. And it isn’t until the end of the movie that Tetsuzo tells her that she should think of an artist name. Meaning he has deemed her worthy enough that she should sign her own works.
What’s great about this movie is the fact that it details the life of O-Ei before she came into her own. There are very few female artists that people know in general. So it is awesome that her story is presented to the general public. Since far too often female stories are passed over.
While watching O-Ei’s story we see her life isn’t dramatic. She lives a relatively normal life with the experiences similar to those around her. She has meals with her mother and works on paintings with her father. She watches over her little sister. But she becomes a great painter regardless. This notion should go against conventional wisdom. It is sometimes said that an artist needs to experience great heights and lows to be able to feel and create art. But O-Ei doesn’t
That is the interesting point the movie makes. Whether it is intentional or not.
Because O-Ei’s art influenced by outside forces, it forces her to be creative. She does not have tragic circumstance, emotional duress, or anything else to create art. Rather it is her own inner emotional sensitivity that allows her to create. It allows her to see the world differently. The movie works that type of vision into an almost supernatural power. The idea of being able to see what other’s might not.
This happens early on in the movie where O-Ei needs to paint a dragon for a customer of her father’s. They create a scene of a great storm coming into town. It signifies that a dragon comes to O-Ei and she captures it on paper in a supernatural fashion. But whether a dragon visited O-Ei or if it was a storm, is up for interpretation. The movie doesn’t give that indication of either one.
Miss Hokusai does not have a dramatic storyline or a great tragic love. It is about the almost mundane life of O-Ei being an apprentice painter. That is part of the beauty of this anime. It does feel like it is taking a peek at an artist life instead of an exaggeration of one.