Miss Hokusai

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Miss Hokusai Movie Poster Image
Historical Japanese character study has mature content.
  • PG-13
  • 2016
  • 93 minutes

Parents say

Not yet rated

Kids say

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive messages

Being a woman shouldn't disqualify you from learning a talent or skill usually reserved for men. There's no excuse for not being there for family members who need you.

Positive role models & representations

O-Ei is a smart, direct, and bold woman. She's flawed, but she's also a loving and caring older sister who often watches her ill younger sister. O-Nao doesn't complain about her condition and is a sweet, curious girl. O-Ei and O-Nao's mother is encouraging. Hokusai is unpredictable and sometimes unreliable, though he clearly has a passion for his art.

Violence

In a dream, three gods stomp on villagers and crush them, as well as destroy a village. A courtesan pushes a client down and kisses her without clear consent. Drunk male friends stumble around and wrestle. A character dies. A character dreams of death and fire. Ghostly visions/visitations.

Sex

Men discuss visiting brothels. One character is considered a "womanizer." O-Ei, her father, and Zenjiro visit a brothel to observe and to speak to a courtesan. Zenjiro comments that he's never left the place so "chastely" before, after all they do is talk. Two male characters flirt with and court O-Ei. Discussion of/partial view of erotic paintings (non-explicit). Hokusai jokes that his daughter's paintings of men are wrong because she's "naive" and "inexperienced." O-Ei visits a courtesan who kisses her; it's left ambiguous about whether O-Ei has sex with the courtesan (whose gender is also ambiguous), but they're shown lying on top of each other.

Language

Strong language (all in subtitles) includes insults like "moron," "stupid," "crappy," "dog poop," and "nasty."

Consumerism
Drinking, drugs & smoking

O-Ei smokes cigarettes/pipes. Zenjiro drinks excessively and is often drunk. A man discusses drinking a woman "under the table."

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Miss Hokusai is an animated Japanese drama (subtitled or dubbed in English, depending on which version you see). It was adapted from a historical manga series about O-Ei, the daughter and apprentice of legendary 19th-century Japanese woodblock painter Hokusai. While the film is animated, it explores mature themes and content, including drunkenness, parental neglect, sex, ableism, and sexism. Characters discuss their sexual experience; some also exhibit "womanizing" behavior, go to brothels, reference erotic paintings (partial views, but nothing explicit seen), and visit a courtesan. In one case, a character actually pays to sleep with a courtesan whose gender is a bit ambiguous; the scene includes uncomfortable, almost forced kissing and caressing on a bed. The main character's younger sister is blind and basically ignored by their father. She's sick throughout the story. Language includes some insults like "moron" and "crappy," and characters drink (some to excess) and smoke. Violent/scary content is limited to a couple of dreams featuring dragons, burning buildings, and gods trampling on villagers. One character dies. Because of the content, this anime film is best for mature middle schoolers and up.

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What's the story?

MISS HOKUSAI is the story of O-Ei (voiced by Anne Watanabe), the daughter and apprentice of her artist father, Hokusai (Yutaka Matsushige), the famous mid-18th and early 19th-century woodblock painter of such works as The Wave. Set in Edo (now Tokyo), Japan, the film -- based on a manga series called Sarusuberi -- concentrates on O-Ei's sometimes-contentious relationship with her father and their fellow artist roommate, lush womanizer Zenjiro (Gaku Hamada). O-Ei's mother (her parents are divorced) and little sister O-Nao (Shion Shimizu), who's sickly and blind and is rarely visited by their father, live nearby. As O-Ei studies her father's style, she must contend with his personal failings and the various men around her who treat her as either an object of affection or a naive girl.

Is it any good?

This beautifully animated and thought-provoking drama about a little-known pioneering female artist isn't quite kid-friendly but makes for a fascinating exploration of gender, art, and family. The animation is remarkably stylized, playing with light and color in the same manner as the art it depicts. An early scene of the sisters on a boat amidst the waves provides a clever reference to what's arguably their father's most famous painting. It's O-Ei and O-Nao's relationship, not O-Ei's with her father, that's the heart of Miss Hokusai. The moments in which O-Ei describes the sights and sounds of Edo to her sister and takes O-Nao to play in the snow with a local villager's son are far more touching than the scenes of O-Ei trading barbs with her father's male students and friends.

As a character study, Miss Hokusai delves into O-Ei's surroundings and relationships, including potential romantic connections. But the plot is relatively thin -- it's really more a series of vignettes than a cohesive three-act narrative, and it doesn't answer a lot of questions about the story's fantastical elements, or even what motivated Hokusai to act so indifferently toward his younger daughter. Still, the animation -- particularly when capturing flights of fancy, dreams, and the supernatural, is fantastic -- and the story is an interesting blend of comedy, family drama, and coming-of-age tale. While Miss Hokusai is too mature for younger kids, teens and adults who appreciate foreign animation will appreciate this historical biography.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the intended audience for Miss Hokusai. Who do you think it's meant to appeal to? Why? Do you think foreign animated films are more likely to include mature content than American-made animated films? If so, why?

  • How is O-Ei a trailblazer? Why is she extraordinary for her time? Do you consider her a role model?

  • What role does sex play in the story? Is it taken seriously or treated casually? Parents, talk to your teens about your own values regarding sex and relationships.

  • How are family relationships depicted in the movie? Which of them are healthy, and which are troubled?

Movie details

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