Miss Hokusai is a fascinating look at the art scene during the later period of the Tokogawa Shogunate, and O-Ei, the eponymous Miss Hokusai, is an intriguing character. Her father, Hokusai, is a rather less interesting character.

Alas, the film Miss Hokusai isn’t particularly engaging or interesting beyond those aspects. Miss Hokusai is essentially a sequence of vignettes about the artistic life (or what passed for it) in Edo[1] around 1814.

The scenes are mostly unconnected, and the greatest strength of the film lies in the gentle relationship between O-Ei and her blind younger sister O-Nao. Several of those scenes are just beautiful, but aren’t really enough to sustain the film.

Amusingly it is in one of these scenes that the Miss Hokusai  directly references The Great Wave off Kanegawa, which is one of Hokusai’s most famous works (at least in the west).

There are a number of fantastical elements in the film, but there’s also a fair degree of scepticism towards those elements from several characters. Overall I took these to be representing the process of artistic inspiration rather than literally.

Overall? O-Ei is a great character that deserves a better film built around her. The Miss Hokusai that we have is worth a look for historical interest, but probably isn’t worth revisiting after that.

Miss Hokusai is available locally in Australia with Japanese and French soundtracks, with English and French subtitles.

[1] Present day Tokyo.