A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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.
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?
- In theaters: October 14, 2016
- On DVD or streaming: March 7, 2017
- Cast: Anne Watanabe, Yutaka Matsushige, Kumiko Aso
- Director: Keiichi Hara
- Studio: GKIDS
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Arts and Dance, Brothers and Sisters, History
- Run time: 93 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: mature thematic material including sexual situations and images
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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