Studio Ghibli set such a high bar for Japanese animation that it’s hard to watch a competent approximation without wondering what Ghibli might have done with it. Adapting Hinako Sugiura’s manga series Sarusuberi, director Keiichi Hara tells the story of real-life 19th-century Japanese artist Hokusai “Tetsuzo” Katsushika through the eyes of his daughter, O-Ei (Anne Watanabe; English dub by Erica Lindbeck), who was also his protégé. The narrative is almost aggressively episodic—a bit about O-Ei’s fascination with watching large fires bears almost no connection to anything else in the story—giving its greatest focus to O-Ei’s relationship with her younger, blind sister. That fragmented quality keeps Miss Hokusai from reaching any genuine psychological depth, even as the screenplay sporadically addresses Tetsuzo’s reluctance to acknowledge O-Ei’s talent. Beautiful images are strewn throughout the film—from a quiet walk along a snowy riverbank, to the play of light and shadow as a moth flitting inside a lantern becomes a terrifying demon—but they’re rarely matched by a story that moves beyond superficial details. This tale of a great artist too often serves as a reminder of the work of better artists.
Director: Keiichi Hara
Producer: Keiko Matsushita and Asako Nishikawa
Cast: Erica Lindbeck, Richard Epcar, Robbie Daymond, Barbara Goodson, Courtney Chu, Marc Diraison, Cindy Robinson, Mike Pollock, Kevin Collins and Ethan Murray