New Film of Japan’s Greatest Artist

In the years before he died, Katsushika Hokusai is reported to have said: “If Heaven will grant me just five more years, then I will become a real painter.” This showed the acerbic wit of the man whose work has become the most recognizable example of “ukiyo-e” (Japanese woodcut paintings). The images of “The Great Wave off Kanagawa”, “36 Views of Mount Fuji” and “South Wind, Clear Sky” have graced gallery walls, book covers, tee-shirts and coffee mugs around the world.
Readers of the “Sword, Mirror, Jewel” series will know that I have a particular obsession with Hokusai, as he appears as a character in Book 2 of the trilogy, “Voice of the Mirror”. The novel offers fictional answers to some of the mysteries surrounding him – such as why he moved house 93 times during his life, and why he used so many false names to sign his work. I was particularly interested to learn this week that a new animated film has been made about the great man – focusing on his relationship with his daughter, O-Ei.
“Sarusuberi” (Miss Hokusai), a film from Production I.G., has been created by Keiichi Hara, director; Miho Maruo, scriptwriter; Yoshimi Itazu, chief animator, and background artist Hiroshi Ohno. It combines a hand-drawn 2-D look with 3-D techniques to bring Hokusai’s vision and ancient Edo (Tokyo) to life.
“I wanted to see the Edo of the Edo period,” Hara said in a May 21st interview with the Japan Times. “The sky was bigger than it is now, since there were no tall buildings. Also, the Sumida river is not so clean now, but at the time it was a very beautiful river … So people were closer to nature and had richer communications with those around them.”

The film also explores Hokusai’s paintings of the Yokai, mysterious supernatural creatures from the rich world of Japanese folklore and mythology. “People seriously believed in ghosts and goblins and that a giant catfish was the cause of earthquakes,” Hara says. “Belief in the existence of the uncanny and nonhuman was taken for granted.”

See the trailer here

The film is an adaption of a manga written and drawn by Hinako Sugiura, and hints that many of Hokusai’s paintings from the latter part of his life may have been created by his daughter, who was an artist of equal ability, despite being considerably less well-known (Japan’s art world, like the whole of its society, was a man’s world).

The film is currently on general release in Japan, and readers might also be interested in “The Printmaker’s Daughter”, a 2010 novel by Katherine Govier.

There is also this wonderful short film from 2008 by Tony White, which animates Hokusai’s artwork to a narrated biography.

“Voice of the Mirror” can be found here.

“Voice of the Sword”, the first book in the series, can be found here.

About J P Catton

Speculative storytelling and skewed fiction: the blog and website of author John Paul Catton.
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