Monday, October 10, 2016

Miss Hokusai

“This life is nothing special, but we're enjoying it,” says O-Ei (voiced by Anne Watanabe), a young woman who apprenticed under her well-known painter father in early-19th-century Japan, at the end of the animated biography Miss Hokusai. That sentiment is probably true of most of us, yet when we're telling stories, we tend to magnify the more sensational bits. Not so with Keiichi Hara's quietly lyrical film, which condenses everyday interactions, memories, and dreams in O-Ei's life into a potent mix of all the major ingredients of a well-lived life, including family love, companionship, humor, sex, work, natural and manmade beauty, and sorrow.

Drawn as a big-eyed beauty, O-Ei is self-confident and self-contained. Her closest relationship appears to be with her blind little sister, O-Nao (Shion Shimizu), but there's a whole world of feeling within that circle of two. The tender love, confidences, and unspoken understandings that pass between the sisters are economically and movingly conveyed throughout the film. And Hara's depictions of the outings the sisters share make excellent use of the ambient soundtrack as O-Ei describes the things around them and O-Nao tunes intently into the sounds, calling our attention to the layered noises that are always in the background, capturing everything from the murmuring roar of a crowd on a busy footbridge to the plaintive call of a lone bird.

Read the rest in Slant Magazine

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