Guest post by Tyne Lowe.
In the first thirty minutes of Miss Hokusai, artist O-Ei walks through Edo with her blind younger sister, O-Nao, and attempts to explain their father’s art to her. The viewer has been introduced to their father, Katsushiko Hokusai (referred to in the film as Tetsuzo), as a somewhat eccentric and performative artist, painting enormous, floor-sized paintings with a mop or rendering minuscule pictures on grains of rice when he was not working in his messy studio with O-Ei. Presenting Hokusai’s best-known work to the viewer and her sister, O-Ei invites O-Nao to experience it, boarding a boat and riding it through increasingly choppy water; the animation slows and then halts as their boat is lifted by the iconic wave, imitating Hokusai’s The Great Wave off Kanagawa (a woodcut c. 1829-1833). Throughout the film, O-Ei’s act of bestowing vision to the blind symbolically embodies her role as an artist. In the Great Wave scene (and others), the emphasis is placed on Hokusai’s art and exploring the near-mystical quality of his artistic energy; however, much of the film also explores O-Ei’s own vision and the processes by which she hones her own skills. (more…)