Miss Hokusai

You know that Japanese print of the huge wave you had in college?

The title character in Miss Hokusai looks at the red crape myrtle in her mother’s backyard and recites these lines of poetry: “Scatter briskly / bloom heartily.” Her father is the Japanese artist Hokusai, famed for his woodblock print The Great Wave off Kanagawa. That iconic image is inventively re-created in this anime based on the manga Sarusuberi (Japanese for “crape myrtle”). But the film is a poetic homage not to him but to his daughter, Katsushika Oi, and her burgeoning skill as a painter. Set in the 1800s during the final years of the Edo period, the film reimagines that era with dozens of lovely details: shaking snow from wintry tree branches, the release of caged sparrows into the bluest sky, paintings that waken on the canvas and teem with life. The relationship Miss Hokusai shows onscreen illustrates the way in which a father subtly hands down his craft to his talented daughter. In one scene, Hokusai has labored over a large dragon painting. An ember drops from Katsushika’s pipe onto the drawing and ruins it. After her father leaves in frustration, she has a vision of a yellow-eyed dragon descending from the ink black night. In the morning, the camera finds her asleep near a dragon painted with those same yellow eyes. The accident is also the occasion of her artistic awakening.

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