Caitlin, Amelia, and Dee discuss Miss Hokusai, the 2015 feature film from Production I.G. Set in the early 1800s, this historical fiction follows real-life artist O-Ei as she navigates her relationships with her famous father, her young sister, and her own developing art in a society and profession dominated by men.
Date Recorded: Saturday 26th November 2017
Hosts: Caitlin, Dee, Amelia
0:09:34 Emotionality and style
0:12:02 O-Ei and sexuality
0:18:04 Adult professional shipping
0:22:18 Prostitutes and fantasies
0:28:06 Day-to-day life in Edo
0:30:17 Mr. Hokusai
0:40:38 O-Ei and O-Nao
0:47:07 The dudes
0:54:12 Miss Hokusai
0:57:36 Historical context
0:59:37 But is it feminist?
CAITLIN: Hi and welcome to Chatty AF, the Anime Feminist podcast. My name’s Caitlin, and I’m a writer and editor at Anime Feminist, as well as running my own blog, I Have a Heroine Problem.
AMELIA: Hi, my name’s Amelia. I’m the editor-in-chief of Anime Feminist.
DEE: Oh, that’s it? You’re not gonna give ‘em your Twitter or nothing? [laughs]
DEE: It was so short and to the point!
AMELIA: It’s all I do! [laughs]
DEE: [laughs] Hi, I’m Dee Hogan, the managing editor for Anime Feminist. I also run the anime blog The Josei Next Door, and you can find me on Twitter @joseinextdoor.
AMELIA: Ah, that was so much better than mine. Okay. I’ll study for next time.
CAITLIN: This week, we’re talking about Miss Hokusai, the 2015 biopic directed by Keiichi Hara about Katsushika O-Ei, daughter of the famed Edo-era artist Hokusai. This film eschews a traditional narrative structure, instead using vignettes to create a snapshot of the young woman for about a year in her life toward the end of her apprenticeship.
O-Ei, historically, was an actual artist who lived from about 1800 to 1866. She spent most of her life working alongside her father, except for a few years when she married another one of his students. That union ended in divorce, supposedly because of her contempt for his lack of talent.
CAITLIN: She was a talented artist in her own right, best known for her paintings of beautiful women. We only know of about ten works attributed to her, but some scholars do believe that some works commonly attributed to her father were actually painted by O-Ei. So, what did you guys think of the movie?
AMELIA: Just to step back for a second, I didn’t realize that she married a guy, then was like, “No, you’re not good enough at painting.” [laughs] “You’re out.” Is that true? Is that just rumor, or…?
CAITLIN: That came up in most of the sources I looked at.
AMELIA: [crosstalk] Wow!
CAITLIN: It did end quickly.
CAITLIN: I’m not sure how much basis there is for her actually just mocking him for not being a very good artist, but yeah, it was only like three years.
AMELIA: But they didn’t cover that in the film at all, did they, so they…
CAITLIN: No, the film was only about a year.
DEE: And it was before she ever met the guy, I would assume.
CAITLIN: Yeah, she mentioned it in the end.
CAITLIN: When she was sort of narrating, doing this sort of Fast Times at Ridgemont High-style—
CAITLIN: But she got married, and then she came back.
AMELIA: Yeah. You know, this one was really hard for me to connect to. So, I thoroughly enjoyed watching Miss Hokusai. It’s a beautiful film. Each of the vignettes is slightly different. I’m struggling to express this, but it felt like a slightly different style, theme, approach; each one was quite individual, and I really appreciated that.
And it felt like there was some slight character growth over the period of time, but honestly, I think a lot of that is just implied. We don’t see a lot of it, and that doesn’t work for what I tend to look for in the films that I’ve truly fallen in love with.
So, it’s not like In This Corner of the World, which came out recently, where you see a very clear progression of the main character’s personal growth and her relationships with the people around her, especially her husband. This is such a different approach to portraying the life of a young woman. And I found it difficult to connect with, but I thought it was absolutely beautiful to watch.
CAITLIN: It is beautiful. I was watching it on my fancy Roku TV.
CAITLIN: But I was just looking at it, and I love animation in high definition. It really is one of my favorite things, because just the clarity of the lines and the brightness of the colors makes it really easy for me to appreciate on a purely visual level. So, it is just a stunningly gorgeous movie.
But I really liked O-Ei. I liked the approach of not really worrying about her character development but rather showing a more complete picture of who she is at this particular moment in her life, because she is a really multifaceted character. And I don’t know how much this character O-Ei has to do with the real O-Ei. I’m pretty sure it’s fairly fictionalized.
AMELIA: [chuckles] It kind of doesn’t matter, does it? So much of the film is presented in such a fantastical way that it doesn’t present itself as documentary.
CAITLIN: It’s true. But she is a character that really spoke to me. And Hara is really very strong at directing movies about women. Princess Arete… I haven’t seen it myself, but it got a lot of praise for having feminist themes as well. So I just enjoy getting to know O-Ei as she was for, I guess, about a year.
AMELIA: She seems like a character who would speak to you, Caitlin. You’ve got a type of female character that you do tend to feel more connected to, and O-Ei completely fits into that mold. And actually, as I was watching it, I was like, “I can see why Caitlin likes this one.” [laughs]
AMELIA: But I’d love to know what Dee thinks of this.
DEE: I think you both saw it a while back, like maybe when it was in theaters. I didn’t—
AMELIA: [crosstalk] No, actually— [chuckles]
CAITLIN: Oh, no. I mean, I did, but I’d also just watched it.
AMELIA: I saw it about three weeks ago at an anime convention. It’s so sad. They had this screening room that was showing some really amazing films, but the films weren’t advertised independently, so I only found out it was in there through a friend who was also there, and it ended up just being the two of us in the screening room watching this incredible film, and I felt so sad for it.
DEE: [crosstalk] Aw. Yeah, that’s too bad.
AMELIA: But that was three weeks ago.
DEE: Okay, yeah, I hadn’t had a chance to see it until yesterday.
CAITLIN: Oh, wow!
DEE: Yeah, I watched it on Netflix. The subtitles were closed captions, so I got all the sound effects, too—which was an odd choice on Netflix’s part, but I guess that works.
DEE: I liked it. I’m kind of with Amelia. I don’t know if it’s a movie that’s necessarily going to stick with me and really resonate. But I appreciated it on a technical level, in terms of what it was doing with the narrative structure and how successfully I think it pulled off a style that typically I don’t think works in films. I think usually it feels very disjointed, and I didn’t get that sense from Miss Hokusai.
So, yeah, I thought it was really well put together, and I didn’t even necessarily mind that there’s not a ton of character growth, because there is a little bit. You get some movement with O-Ei and her sister and her dad. But I think the thing that maybe keeps me from falling absolutely in love with it is it’s very restrained, and normally I use that as a positive, and in this case, I’m not sure I do. It seemed like every time it was about to really hit on some kind of emotionally honest moment, it would pull back and jump to the next thing. So, I had a little bit of a tough time connecting with it emotionally because of that.
But I very much liked the characters; the way they blended the realism with this magic, fantastical world that O-Ei and her father and her sister, O-Nao, saw to an extent—or pictured. I guess “see” is not exactly the right word, since O-Nao was blind.
DEE: That sense of imagination and how they depicted how artists see the world, I thought, was really great. So, yeah, there’s a lot to like about it, but I did not leave it going, “Oh my God, I love this movie. I wanna watch it over and over and over again.” So, yeah, appreciated it, though, definitely.
AMELIA: You can’t see me, but I was nodding strongly along with basically everything you just said.
AMELIA: There’s one scene, which I’m sure we’ll come back to, where O-Ei goes to a brothel and she tries to let herself be seduced by the sex worker.
AMELIA: And just as she’s about to give into this desire of hers, the sex worker falls asleep on her and says, “Just a minute. Let me nap.” And that’s the end of the scene. And that’s the end of that entire strand of story. And I think—
CAITLIN: Oh, there’s the next morning.
AMELIA: What, when she steps out?
AMELIA: But it feels anticlimactic, and—I completely agree with you, Dee—it feels like it did step back at those moments. I felt like that was kind of in a microcosm what my experience of Miss Hokusai was actually like, watching the film. And then when it got to the end, even at that point, I was like, “Wait, was that it? There’s no more?”
CAITLIN: Uh-oh, looks like I’m in the minority here! [laughs]
DEE: Well, I mean, again, there’s a lot of things I liked about it, for sure.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] No, I’m just teasing.
DEE: I just wasn’t over-the-moon in love with it. I feel bad. I kept comparing it to In This Corner of the World because, even though they take place in very different time periods, they both have that quality of focusing on the minutiae of everyday life in a historical period, which I love. I love just seeing how people lived in different time periods and places.
But where I think In This Corner of the World nailed those emotional beats, I thought Miss Hokusai—it felt like they really didn’t want it to be an emotional movie, but they inserted a lot of plot points that… Like, just jumping straight to the end, the fact that O-Nao dies feels like it should be a big emotional moment, because those two characters have, I think, the best scenes up to that point. I loved the interactions between O-Ei and her sister.
DEE: I thought those scenes were beautifully depicted. I thought her sister’s struggle with feeling like she was a bad daughter and how they both used imagination in different ways to see the unseen—is, I guess, how I would describe it… I thought all that was lovely.
And so then, for them to decide to have her get sick and die at the very end feels like it should be a big emotional beat, and it really wasn’t. She shows up at her mom’s house, and her mom’s like, “Yeah, she just passed,” and then we cut to a few months later. So, it was an odd choice for me that you would add in a plot point that feels like something you should hit on, and they kind of didn’t.
CAITLIN: I would say that was probably the one moment in the movie that did seem a little off to me. I feel like that was a little bit more about Hokusai himself. And we’ll dig into that a little bit later.
I also think it makes a big difference that I saw this movie before I saw In This Corner of the World. I saw it in its initial US theatrical release, probably about a year ago, at first. I didn’t really have that in the front of my mind, so I absolutely did respond to this movie without that to compare it to, and if I saw In This Corner of the World, maybe I would be more on the same page as you guys. Who knows?
CAITLIN: So, I want to talk about the character O-Ei, because, like I said, I really, really enjoyed her.
CAITLIN: I thought it was… [laughs] The movie opened up with a really good little bit of visual storytelling I think about, that really drove home what kind of character she is. She is someone who is not interested in traditional femininity.
And she never goes into “I am not like other girls.” But, you know, she doesn’t shave her eyebrows, which I believe was the fashion at the time; the other women in the film, when you see them, they’ve got no eyebrows. She walks forward with this really confident stride, looking straight ahead of her. She doesn’t take care of her father; she works with her father. She doesn’t take care of him. They don’t cook, they don’t clean.
DEE: No, they just move to a new house when that one gets too dirty.
DEE: I thought that was an amazing way to live. [laughs]
AMELIA: I think that’s quite tempting sometimes, to be honest.
DEE: Yeah, it kind of is, right?
CAITLIN: And so, that really set the pace for the kind of character that she is. And the movie is about building from that, showing the different facets of her personality, but it never feels contradictory. She always feels consistent; she always feels believable.
AMELIA: And at some points, she feels completely relatable, right?
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Yes!
AMELIA: Like, there’s that moment when she’s on the bridge and she has a smudge on her cheek, and she knows she has a smudge on her cheek, and she’s tried to get it away. And then her crush walks up, and she’s like, “How can I stand so he doesn’t see the smudge on my cheek?” [chuckles] And in that moment, I was just completely relating to this character from 200 years ago or whatever it is.
CAITLIN: [laughs] Yeah. [laughs] That was pretty fantastic. And I feel like her fumbling—she’s so confident about so many things, but whenever it’s a matter of sex or romance, she just becomes totally awkward, which I found really relatable.
AMELIA: [crosstalk] Also relatable. [laughs] Absolutely.
CAITLIN: Because that’s never been a focus in her life. She’s surrounded by dudes, but not in that capacity, so when there is somebody she actually likes, then it’s just like, “Oh, no! What do I do?” [laughs]
AMELIA: And actually, her experiences with sex are very much from a man’s perspective, right? So, she’s sent into brothels to paint pictures of women. [laughs] That seems to be the closest she gets to seeing what sexuality looks like, and she—
CAITLIN: Or she draws her father’s sketches of erotic scenes.
AMELIA: Yes. Yeah, and that’s the closest she gets, and so, seeing her try to—well, she doesn’t even try to, does she? You can see she’s absorbed a little bit. Like, there’s one scene where she puts on a little bit of makeup and pretties herself up a little bit for the guy that she thinks she’s going to see. But that’s as far as it gets, and she doesn’t ever look completely comfortable with herself in those situations, like you said. I think that’s such a nice character aspect.
DEE: And I think the fact that because she is an artist and erotica was a chunk of their money at the time, I think she’s more keenly aware—because I’m not sure exactly how old she’s supposed to be at this point, but I bet it’s not that odd for her to be an unmarried young woman who has never had a relationship with a man before—but she’s more aware of it because it affects her art. And she starts to notice that, when people are like, “Yeah, your paintings just don’t have sensuality to them because of…” and everyone tap dances around “experience”?
CAITLIN: And I think part of it is they’re like, “Oh, your father really shouldn’t be having this young woman painting.”
DEE: Yeah, and that’s part of it, too, that sense of… I thought the movie did a really nice job of blending historical accuracy with modern sensibilities. So, you have moments like that, but then you also have this overarching sense of the movie being—the movie itself doesn’t feel like it’s shaming her for wanting to be good at drawing erotica. You know what I mean? The movie seems cool with that, but some of the characters are like, “I’m not sure this is really a proper thing for a young woman to be doing.”
But the thing I really like about that kind of storyline is I think there’s a nice focus in the film about the importance of personal experience and perspective. Because she’s really good at drawing women, and I think the fact that she is a woman and spends more time with women in their day-to-day lives than these male painters around her do has a lot to do with that. And I liked that the film made a point of saying that your own perspective can be a boon and an influence on your work. But it can be a limitation, too, in terms of her struggling with some of those erotic artworks.
CAITLIN: Right, and I think the film walked a very careful line about how sometimes she does feel a little held back because of her gender, without ever calling it out in a way that felt historically inaccurate. She never has an “I’m not like other girls” speech.
AMELIA: Such a mess.
CAITLIN: Another character does that for her.
DEE: Oh, God, he does. Kuninao is such a putz.
CAITLIN: Oh, Kuninao. [laughs] He is.
DEE: His introduction to the story is he leans over her shoulder and starts mansplaining how to draw a dragon.
DEE: And she is just—
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] She just stares at him!
DEE: Yes, she is so unimpressed, and I loved that. That was the moment where I was like, “Okay, I like you. You’re great, O-Ei.”
CAITLIN: Yes, that was the moment that I fell in love with her, and I was just like, “Oh, my God. This is my kind of girl.”
AMELIA: See, I found that whole thing disappointing because, you know, I love relationships between two adult professionals who respect each other, and I was so sure that’s where it was going to go, and then it didn’t, and I was so disappointed. I was basically waiting for the rest of the film to see if that would go anywhere, and it didn’t. Which, I know logically that’s not a bad thing and I can actually respect that decision, but personally, I was really disappointed. So, that felt like a shame.
CAITLIN: Mm, I could see that.
DEE: [crosstalk] I thought there were other places in the film where you got that sense of two adult professionals who respected each other. Like, she and Zenjiro have a very combative relationship, but I think they do appreciate one another’s art to an extent.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Yeah, I think so.
DEE: And obviously, the guy she has a crush on, Hatsugoro, he’s also a painter, and they seem to have a mutual respect for one another’s work, as well. To me, Kuninao was this guy who inserted himself in her life because he thought she was cute and “not like other girls,” as Caitlin points out.
And I liked that all of his scenes, which, I think, in a lot of movies would have been set up for a romantic comedy—like, “Oh, look at this guy who knows so much about art and is gonna explain it to you and is gonna tell you how cool you are”—she has no interest in him. I thought that was a very clever way to slap down that trope.
AMELIA: Yeah, you are not wrong. I just happen to like that. [laughs]
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Well, he’s very impressed with himself.
CAITLIN: He’s so impressed with himself. The first time we see him in the movie, he’s standing on the bridge painting, and he sees her, and he just steps in front of her with this big gesture like “I’m going to paint you now, and you’re going to be impressed by this important artist man.” And then he steps in dog shit.
CAITLIN: [laughs] But he is presented in the movie as being young. He’s 19, and Zenjiro does say that with shock, so we do know that that’s supposed to be surprising, that he is that young. So, I assume that Zenjiro and O-Ei are a little bit older than that, maybe early 20s. But the scene at the temple that we were alluding to with the “Not like other girls” thing—
DEE: Mm-hm. When he takes her on a date that she’s so not into.
CAITLIN: Once again, she’s so not impressed with him, and he’s just following her around, talking about how she’s not like other girls, and he thinks she’ll be flattered, but she just doesn’t care. He has nothing interesting to say to her. And that ties back to when she sees Hatsugoro at the play, and he is with a quote-unquote “normal girl,” and she’s like… it kind of stings that she has refused traditional femininity when this guy that she really likes does seem to be into that, which I can understand. I’ve been there.
AMELIA: But that’s the one time when she does put on the trapping of femininity, right? It’s the one time she actually does dress up, put makeup on, put stuff in her hair.
AMELIA: And it’s almost like it’s too late. But at the same time, she’s been authentically herself right up until that point. Having said that, I don’t want to imply that her wearing pretty things suddenly makes her not authentic to herself.
CAITLIN: Right. Of course. And another moment… I just want to bring it up because it bothered me when I first saw the movie. I mean, it wasn’t something about the movie that bothered me. It was something… I have a bad habit when I see a movie: I go out and I read all the reviews, and if it’s a really good movie that I really liked, I read the negative ones. It’s a really terrible habit.
DEE: You should not do that.
CAITLIN: I shouldn’t do that!
AMELIA: No, only give me the good ones.
CAITLIN: But a lot of the reviews, they didn’t seem to notice that the prostitute that O-Ei sees is a man.
DEE: Oh, Kichiya?
DEE: At the male brothel?
DEE: Yeah! Kichiya is a boy.
CAITLIN: They were like, “Oh, she goes out and seeks a lesbian experience.” I’m just like, “You don’t listen to the voice acting at all, do you?”
CAITLIN: Kichiya is very… And he grabs his butt after the monk leaves and yells about how sore it is. Like, it’s not subtle.
DEE: No, it’s really not. And as soon as the monk leaves… He’d been putting on a show of excessive femininity, and as soon as the monk leaves, he drops that. And he’s still kind of bubbly, but you can then tell that he’s putting on an act for this guy a little bit.
DEE: Which is true of all the different courtesans and prostitutes that we see in the series. I thought it handled the brothel scenes really well. I especially liked the one in Yoshiwara. What was her name? Sayogoromo, the courtesan whose spirit was trying to escape.
Tell me your opinions on this, because I thought part of the sense of that scene was that she feels trapped within the brothel, because there’s a lot of shots of those red bars and how the women are being cloistered behind them, and then her spirit’s trying to flee, but it keeps getting pushed up against the netting. Did anyone else get that sense, that that scene was—?
CAITLIN: I hadn’t really thought of that, but that does seem like a pretty solid interpretation.
AMELIA: Yeah, I think this was the first major fantasy scene of the film, if I recall rightly. And I remembered just being quite confused because I wasn’t sure if we were in a fantasy story or a more realistic story. I was just a bit lost at that point, so I wasn’t thinking of it perhaps as critically as I could have been.
DEE: Well, they had the dragon. That was the first one, when she’s painting the dragon, and we get the sense that it appears in the clouds, and then she paints it after she “sees” it, quote-unquote. And there’s a really nice scene, I think, right before the courtesan scene, where O-Ei and O-Nao are out on the river and they imagine the big waves from the ocean.
CAITLIN: Oh, yeah, the great—
DEE: Yeah, and you get the Hokusai Great Wave homage. But just the idea of the two of them envisioning that together and sharing in that imaginative moment. I liked the bursts of magical realism in the story.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Yeah, me too.
DEE: I think animation is one of the few mediums where you can really capture—and I feel bad for doing this comparison again, but In This Corner of the World did this, as well—you can really capture the way an artist or a creative looks at the world and pictures how things look in their head; what this looks like to them. And I thought the movie did a really good job of that.
CAITLIN: I 100% agree.
AMELIA: I do agree, but this is why I was so thrown by that scene, because that is not one person’s impression of something; that’s not a representation of someone’s emotional state. That is a shared vision between like four people in the room.
DEE: That’s true.
AMELIA: So, that’s what threw me. It’s like, “Is this happening to them, or is this just a representation we’re supposed to see where she’s actually, I don’t know, having a fit or something, or a nightmare and they’re imagining this?” I don’t know. I was a bit lost. But what you’ve presented does make sense and is a very solid interpretation; I agree with Caitlin.
DEE: Yeah, I think, to a point—and the movie is dealing in this realm of magical realism that is… How do I put this? A lot of classic Japanese literature that takes place in reality features ghosts and spirits escaping bodies while people are alive, or ghosts visiting people shortly after they’ve died. And it’s baked into the fiction, even the fiction that is considered slice-of-life-y, if that makes sense.
And so, I think that Miss Hokusai is operating on those same terms. So, I would describe it as magical realism, but at the same time, I think it’s also just sort of the way literature was written, and the assumptions of that time period would be that, yeah, spirits exist.
CAITLIN: Right, because Edo is almost as much a character as any of the humans in the movie. So, it makes sense that they would include things that were the perspective of the time and that myth and spirits were really just parts of everyday life at the time. I’m sure there weren’t literally people whose heads were trying to escape their bodies, but it was something that was just incorporated into everyday life and everyday perspectives. So, it makes sense that it would be thrown into the movie.
AMELIA: It makes sense now, in the cold light of day thinking about it, but I think it was just that first one, I was a bit thrown by it.
CAITLIN: Yeah. I mean, I loved just little bits and pieces that I remembered from when I was studying Japanese history, like the firefighter thing. Watching fires being put out was a spectator sport, and it was very popular among women, and firefighters were basically rock stars. [laughs] That sort of stuff, it was really, really immersive and enjoyable and, I think, helped pull me into the film, as well.
DEE: Yeah, I really liked that about that, and—again, I kind of repeat myself a little bit, but maybe we’ll go into this a little bit more here, too—it does a really good job of giving you an idea of day-to-day life in Edo around that time period, but at the same time, it’s… There’s a line that’s very difficult to walk with historical fiction sometimes, which is depicting the world as it is while still having, on that higher, meta-narrative level, the message you’re conveying to your audience, and your audience is a modern audience.
And so, I think the movie does a very good job of giving you an idea of what it was like to live in Edo at that time and the beliefs and difficulties that they would have had then, while simultaneously having this upper meta-narrative that appeals more to a modern audience in the way you were talking about with the way O-Ei acts. Even the music has kind of a modern rock feel to it, which I did not care for, but I—
CAITLIN: A lot of people found it very jarring.
DEE: Yeah. I thought the rock music was—but then Shiina Ringo sang the ending theme, and I forgave them because she’s great.
DEE: I found it kind of jarring, but I get what they were going for in terms of trying to tell a story from a different time period that would appeal and be resonant to a modern audience, and I thought they toed that line very well.
CAITLIN: I agree. Yeah. So, in a character movie, just as important as the main character themselves is their relationships with the other characters, so I want to zoom in on some of those, as well.
For example, her relationship with Hokusai. I think they managed to, once again, walk a very fine line, because he is her father, he is an authority figure, and I feel like the movie could’ve been very easily about how she is striving under this male authority figure who is telling her what she’s doing wrong at every turn.
So, I feel like they did a really good job making it not so that it felt like Hokusai was telling her that her work wasn’t good enough and being this man putting down a young woman, but just that he was her teacher. When he told her that she didn’t think things through and tie up the loose ends, for example, in the scene with the Buddhist folding screen—the pictures of Hell—he wasn’t a man telling a woman that she was wrong. He was a teacher telling his student that she still had something that she needed to learn.
And at the end of the movie, when he told her that he thought that she was ready to start making her own art, on my second viewing, I feel like that was almost the littlest hint of a plot arc that is about O-Ei truly coming into her own as an artist.
DEE: Mm-hm. I agree with that.
AMELIA: Yeah, absolutely. And it starts off with the dragon, right? That’s the first artistic point, and I think that’s probably my favorite scene, where she’s trying to figure out how to construct this dragon, and it ends up being more of a spiritual experience for her than a technical experience, and it seems like she struggles to put herself emotionally into her pictures throughout the film. So, yeah, I absolutely loved that opening—that opening? It’s not [the] opening, is it?—but that kind of early scene showing us O-Ei as an artist.
I completely agree with you that Hokusai as teacher was framed really well. There’s no real point where you get the impression that he’s ordering her around because she’s a girl or anything like that. She’s working, like you say, with him, but also for him. He is sort of her boss. It’s his name that makes the sales, so she is his subordinate. She’s his apprentice, and that framing completely works for me.
I was a little bit—not disappointed exactly, but in complete contrast to all those reviews that were like, “Hokusai’s not in it enough,” I thought he was in it too much, almost.
CAITLIN: Yeah. And I wrote a whole post about this a while ago on Heroine Problem, there were quite a few dude reviewers who thought the movie was supposed to be about Hokusai, not O-Ei’s point of view.
DEE: [crosstalk] I mean, the title is…
AMELIA: [crosstalk] They just missed half the title. [laughs]
DEE: I was gonna say, “Did they miss this ‘Miss’ in the title or…?”
CAITLIN: They just completely missed the point of the movie. So they were like, “Why is this movie about Hokusai focusing so much about this young girl? [Makes smugly annoyed gibberish noises].”
AMELIA: But I struggled with how much it focused on Hokusai himself. It was especially the relationship between him and O-Nao. That got a lot of attention, and I thought that O-Ei’s place within that was interesting, but it felt a bit much.
CAITLIN: And there was a review that actually said that the relationship between Hokusai and O-Nao would be better served by a live-action documentary, which was like, “No!” First of all, I don’t know how much historical basis there actually is here.
DEE: Yeah, I don’t know either.
CAITLIN: [laughs] But no. O-Nao and the relationships with O-Ei and also with Hokusai was also the emotional center of the movie.
DEE: Mm-hm. I agree with that.
CAITLIN: One scene that really grabbed me was when she was sick, and Hokusai—he’s afraid of illness, he’s afraid of death—but he goes to see her, and she reaches up to touch his face, and he’s scared. And he’s not just scared of the illness; he’s scared of his daughter, who just can’t see the world the same way he does, and it’s just such a fundamental inability for him to understand her, because he is so visual.
DEE: Yeah. You know, we keep talking about how the movie toes this line, and there were definitely moments where I was angry with him in the same way O-Ei was, where I’m like, “Dude, it’s your daughter. Go see her. She thinks you hate her.” But I thought the movie did a good job of…
The scene that, to me, was really telling, was when O-Nao’s playing in the snow, and O-Ei remembers a time as a child when her dad was with her and he was drawing, and she was trying to get him to play in the snow with her. And he won’t do that, but then he brings her over and brings her her own sketchbook, basically, and she starts painting with him, and I think that really gives you an idea of… he’s one of those people who he’s not trying to be mean; he just doesn’t know how to interact outside of artwork.
And so, that’s the connection he and O-Ei are able to have; and so, to have a daughter who is blind… and you can explain a painting to her—which O-Ei does later, which I thought was a lovely scene—and she can kind of envision it, but she can’t share in that process with him the same way that O-Ei can. And so, it’s that sense of he has no idea how to interact with someone who can’t interact via artwork.
AMELIA: And I loved it when they explored that. I really did, because my dad’s kind of the same, actually. When I was really small, he tried to teach me computer programming to bond with me. Six-year-old me didn’t really take to it at the time, but it was sweet that he tried. And he tried to share his love of the kinds of books that he liked. He actually introduced me to anime—
AMELIA: —by just recording Studio Ghibli films when they showed up on TV and showing them to me on VHS as I grew older. And so, watching that, where he sits her down and puts paper in front of her because that’s what he understands and that’s how he can communicate with her and bond with her, that I absolutely loved.
And showing how he found it difficult to connect with O-Nao in the same way, and so he would rather run away from her than connect with her, that made sense to me. But his fear of her illness felt like it belonged in another film. It didn’t make sense in the Miss Hokusai story, unless you take “Miss Hokusai” to mean both of them, but O-Ei was clearly the focus here.
CAITLIN: It’s funny. My relationship with my dad was a little bit closer to O-Nao’s, just in the terms we were talking about, where my sister was more O-Ei. My dad’s very into theater, and so, my sister was the one who ended up getting into theater. I ended up being the anime nerd, and my dad’s relationship with my sister when we were teenagers was much stronger than his with mine. I fought with my dad a lot, and he hated that I liked anime. He didn’t understand it, and he thought it was all for perverts.
AMELIA: Oh, dear.
CAITLIN: It didn’t help that the first anime I got into was Ranma 1/2, and every time a character took off their shirt, my dad would walk in the room.
AMELIA: It just felt out of place within this film about Miss Hokusai. It felt like it was delving more into the psyche of Hokusai himself rather than Miss Hokusai, rather than O-Ei. It felt like a sideline too far for me, because the story was already episodic, so I was already having difficulty feeling emotionally engaged with it, and when that one took over the story…
And O-Nao is an important character, and the impact of her death on her sister was really important, but the impact it had on Hokusai felt less important to me, and it felt a bit intrusive to have him as such a major point of that story.
CAITLIN: Mm, that’s fair.
DEE: Yeah, that’s fair. There’s a central arc of O-Ei coming into her own as an artist, as Caitlin noted, and I think there’s also kind of a central conflict, which is that O-Ei is this bridge between her dad and her sister. The two most important people in her life don’t seem to know how to connect to each other.
And so, in the early portions of the movie, when we’re seeing that relationship through O-Ei’s eyes, I think it’s really good and a compelling central throughline, as we talked about with Hokusai not knowing how to connect with her. And his response to her illness is to paint a picture. That’s all he knows how to do, really.
CAITLIN: That’s very him.
CAITLIN: And it’s sweet.
DEE: No, it is. It’s him trying to show concern in his own way. And so, as frustrating as it is for me that he can’t just be there for his kid, I think that the film does a good job of showing the person he is and how he’s trying to do his best in his own way.
But yeah, some of those final scenes, it feels like the perspective shifts away from O-Ei and to Hokusai, and it’s a little jarring. I do agree with you on that one, Amelia, because then it doesn’t seem like O-Ei’s still involved. I still thought it was a really good scene—I agree with you, Caitlin—the one when he comes over and she puts her hand on his face. I thought that was an excellently done scene.
AMELIA: Ah, I was less into that, but anyway. [chuckles]
CAITLIN: [chuckles] But O-Ei and O-Nao, every scene that they were in together was so lovely.
DEE: It was wonderful. Yeah.
CAITLIN: I loved the scene where they go out to the bridge together, and all of a sudden, the focus of the sound design shifts and you can hear the sound so much more clearly. And just the way that O-Ei is always able to connect to O-Nao and is able to really try to help her experience the world on a level that she’s capable of with her sound and touch and taste. It was just really beautiful. I really, really enjoyed every scene that they were in together.
DEE: Yeah, I agree. Again, I probably said this already, but I thought that was absolutely the emotional core of the movie. And during the snow scene, when they were walking around and then she just kind of befriends that local boy and they start playing in the snow together, I had a moment where I was like, “You know, the entire movie could just be O-Ei and O-Nao doing stuff together. I’d be happy with that!”
AMELIA: That scene was lovely, with the little boy. And you think he might be about to be cruel to her—
DEE: Yeah. I was worried that that’s where that was going.
AMELIA: Me too, but he finds a way to not just communicate, but to play, and she doesn’t have a lot of play in her life. It was just beautifully animated, as well. Now, I rarely notice animation, but that was one example where I was just watching this little boy’s movements like, “How did a human with a pencil create this?”
CAITLIN: I know.
AMELIA: It was just so fluid and—yeah, it was absolutely stunning, and it was a really touching scene.
CAITLIN: And I like that O-Ei’s so different with O-Nao than she is with anyone else, but it feels natural. It’s a different side of her that we’re able to see. With the men, she’s a little bit cold and she’s standoffish.
DEE: She’s very professional, I think is part of it, too, with a lot of them. Like Zenjiro, she and Zenjiro have more of a combative relationship, but I think with a lot of the guys, there’s that sense of “I’m also a professional artist, and that’s our relationship, is of colleagues.”
CAITLIN: I mean, I personally felt like she just is tired of dealing with dudes, but maybe that’s just projecting.
DEE: Well, she’s definitely tired of dealing with, like, Kuninao. She has no interest in him.
AMELIA: She has no patience with him from the start, does she?
DEE: No, she really doesn’t. I think it’s one of those things—but then, she’s very nice to Hatsugoro, and the two of them have some nice chats together, so probably it depends on the guy.
AMELIA: Yeah, I don’t think she’s tired of dudes. She clearly has respect for her father, and she clearly doesn’t have respect for Zenjiro really, but…
DEE: Yeah, but she’ll yell at both of them. Like, she’ll yell at her dad when she thinks he needs to be yelled at. No, but I agree with you. I like that her relationship with O-Nao is you see a softer…
CAITLIN: It’s very warm.
DEE: Yeah, very warm. That’s a good word for it. It’s just a very loving relationship. She clearly cares a lot for her sister. And it’s nice, too, because I think in a lot of movies like this, when they want to show the kinder or more compassionate side of a character who’s kind of brisk in their day-to-day interactions, a lot of the time it’s “Oh, this person they’re in love with, and they’re like this with them.” And so, I like that they used the familial bond in this movie instead of trying to shoehorn in a romantic story.
AMELIA: That’s true. I hadn’t thought of that.
CAITLIN: Yeah. No, it is true. And I do like that O-Ei is not a totally saccharine anime child.
DEE: Oh, O-Nao, you mean?
CAITLIN: Yeah. Did I say O-Ei?
DEE: Yes, you did.
CAITLIN: Well, O-Ei either. She’s definitely not a saccharine anime child.
DEE: True, that.
CAITLIN: But no, O-Ei is—O-Nao—Here we go. O-Nao. She’s still a little bit idealized—
AMELIA: Yes. She’s very content, isn’t she?
DEE: Well, I wouldn’t say she’s content.
CAITLIN: No, she just doesn’t ask for anything.
DEE: And I think the movie does a—
CAITLIN: She doesn’t expect anything.
DEE: Well, I think the movie does a good job of explaining why she is kind of quiet and reserved and, yeah, doesn’t really ask for things, is there’s this sense of—and I don’t know the historical finer points of how disabled people were treated in Edo Japan—but she feels like she can’t be a good daughter because she’s blind. And so there’s that sense of “Well, I don’t have the right to ask for anything because I’m already a burden on my family.”
Familial bonds were very important at the time, especially with your filial bonds—particularly with your parents. And so she has a lot of guilt about the fact that she was born blind, and it’s really sad.
And so, I like that the movie—O-Ei is so fiercely against that train of thought. Again, it’s the movie toeing that line, I think, between the way people probably did think historically at the time, which was not good, and O-Ei being like, “No, that’s stupid. You’re a great kid. You’re gonna go to heaven. Don’t worry about it.”
CAITLIN: Yeah. It was really sad just hearing her talk about that, just absolutely heartbreaking, because she’s—and at the end, O-Ei is talking to O-Nao and she looks up at the sky… Just every moment with them was just so touching. And, once again, the movie walks a very fine line, because it would be really easy to make those moments saccharine and overly sweet and Hallmark-y.
CAITLIN: But they’re not. It feels like O-Ei loves her little sister so, so much and wants to show her the world in a way that no one else seems to be willing to do.
DEE: Mm-hm. Yeah, I agree with that. I thought that relationship and that storyline was handled really well.
CAITLIN: And meanwhile… We touched on this a little bit, but O-Ei’s relationship with her peers, a.k.a., as I have it in the show notes, “the dudes.”
DEE: [laughs] Yeah, I think we’ve covered a lot of that already. Yeah, we’ve made our opinions on Kuninao pretty clear. I liked that her relationships with—there’s three male students who cycle through the film, and it’s Zenjiro, Hatsugoro and Kuninao, and I liked that her relationship with all three of them is different.
DEE: Again, she’s the kind of person where none of the sides of her that we see feels out of place or out of character. They all feel like they belong to the same person, but people do interact with different people differently. The goofball kid who’s crashing with you and your dad, you’re going to behave very differently with him than the student from the rival school, versus the guy you kind of have a crush on.
CAITLIN: [laughs] “A student from the rival school.”
AMELIA: This one’s got a bit—this all got quite shounen all of a sudden, didn’t it? [laughs]
DEE: Sorry, they talked about that at the beginning of the film, that he’s from a different art school, and they are in competition for patronage and things like that, so…
AMELIA: Nothing you said was inaccurate. You just made it sound that much more manga-fied.
DEE: I just made it sound very shounen.
AMELIA: [crosstalk] It was great. My Hero Hokusai.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Or like a college rivalry. [laughs]
AMELIA: My Hero Hokusai. I’m up for that.
CAITLIN: But yeah. Her relationship with each of them is different, but it feels consistent for the character. And that is a fine line, because she’s probably known Zenjiro for a while.
CAITLIN: And it is almost sibling-like, the way that they pick at each other.
DEE: Yeah, it is, for sure.
CAITLIN: And annoy each other.
AMELIA: And it seems like they’re fairly level artists, as well, so it seems like they complement each other. He’s good at things that she’s not so good at, and she’s good at things that he’s not so good at. I don’t know if he’s quite as good as her yet, but you get the impression they’re both on the same tier as apprentices. So, I quite appreciated that.
CAITLIN: Yeah, they’re very much equals.
AMELIA: I don’t know if that’s true, though. That’s why I was avoiding saying that. I’m not sure they were quite equals, because I actually got the feeling at moments that O-Ei was the senior one. But at the same time, Zenjiro is the one who obviously gets to go with Hokusai and spend more social time with him, so—
CAITLIN: Yeah. And that’s the separation, is that O-Ei does get left out of these things sometimes because of her gender.
AMELIA: So, it didn’t feel equal; it did feel balanced, I guess.
CAITLIN: Yeah, that’s a better way to put it, I guess. And that is an interesting thing, that even though she does have these different relationships that are very well depicted, I still do think that there is a little bit of a barrier between her and the other artists because she is a girl, even if… I feel like Hokusai treats her pretty much the same, but she doesn’t go out to soba or go out drinking with the dudes, with the fox girl during the storm. She’s sort of isolated. She’s very focused in on her art. The only time we see her really… Mm, no, never mind.
AMELIA: [crosstalk] Does she get invited out at all?
DEE: [crosstalk] No, I do agree with you. There’s a—
AMELIA: I don’t remember. Dee, you saw it yesterday. Did she get invited out by them at all?
DEE: She goes with them to see the courtesan with the stretchy neck.
AMELIA: But that’s a work thing.
DEE: But that’s a work thing.
CAITLIN: And she was going [to] that. They followed her.
AMELIA: [laughs] That’s true.
DEE: [crosstalk] Oh, that’s right. Yeah, I forgot about that. I just saw it. [laughs] No, there’s definitely a social barrier. And it’s never called out; it’s never made explicit in the film, but there’s very much that sense of: when they’re going out to party, they’re usually going to a geisha house or a brothel, and so she does not get to go out and party with them.
AMELIA: She never asks to, does she? It’s not like she asks and she gets rebuffed or anything like that. It seems like she’s reached a conclusion that she’s not going to go on these things, for whatever reason, and so she doesn’t even try.
CAITLIN: Yeah, she doesn’t seem good at putting herself out there.
AMELIA: Like socially?
DEE: And I think it’s not super clear—and again, maybe if I was more familiar with Edo history and cultural norms—it’s not clear if it’s because she has no interest or if it’s because that was just absolutely not a thing women did, so there’s kind of an assumption that “Well, of course you’re not going to go out. You wouldn’t.”
AMELIA: Yeah, my assumption was that it was more the latter, that she’s not going to try because there’s no point.
CAITLIN: Yeah, there is a sense that she’s isolated a little bit.
AMELIA: And it means that she focuses on her work all the more, I think.
DEE: Yeah, she’s very much in a world that is occupied by men. We don’t see any other female painters. The other women we see are, what, courtesans, wives, her sister… I think that’s pretty much it.
CAITLIN: Hatsugoro’s girlfriend.
AMELIA: His date. We don’t know that they were…
AMELIA: …an item. Yeah, that was kind of disappointing, as well. She doesn’t engage with him on that. She just kind of—well, no, actually this fits with her character completely. She sees an image, she jumps to a conclusion, she assumes she’s right, and she walks away.
CAITLIN: She’s very reserved.
AMELIA: She’s not used to taking risks, I think. Her whole existence is kind of taking a risk. She walks into brothels and things like that, but it’s within—
CAITLIN: That’s all for art.
AMELIA: Yeah. Exactly. It’s within this framing of her profession, whereas doing things for social reasons or for emotional reasons, that seems to be very far outside her comfort zone, and that’s where she starts getting more uncomfortable.
CAITLIN: Yeah. No, I agree. And I don’t know if I would say it’s a weakness, but one of the things about this being such a brief snapshot of her life rather than following a narrative arc is we don’t really know. It’s very much a chicken-or-the-egg situation. Is she reserved because she doesn’t feel like she’s a part of things, because of her gender, or is she not invited along because she’s so reserved?
AMELIA: See, that’s something I would have liked to have got a bit more insight into, which you can’t because it is a snapshot, as you said. And I do understand and respect what that brings to a story about a woman and, like you said, that it does a really good job of showcasing many different aspects of the same person; making them feel consistent, showing her in a number of different situations, which gives us more information about Edo and daily life then. This is all great.
But what I really wanted from a film called Miss Hokusai was: “How did she get there? Where is she going? What’s driving her?” And I never really got that sense and that grounding.
CAITLIN: Right. And it is based on a longer-running manga.
AMELIA: Oh, really?
CAITLIN: Sarusuberi, which I don’t think it’s ever been translated into English at all, unfortunately.
DEE: Wasn’t it written in like the ‘70s or something?
CAITLIN: Yeah, it’s old.
CAITLIN: Here. [types on keyboard] I am… That’s the thing about being on a computer. Yeah, it ran in the ‘80s.
DEE: Oh, okay.
CAITLIN: 1983 to 1987. Amelia, this might interest you: there is a book about O-Ei.
AMELIA: Wait, why does this interest me specifically? [laughs]
CAITLIN: Well, there’s a fiction novel about O-Ei.
AMELIA: Oh, so it might be more palatable to me? [laughs]
CAITLIN: Yeah, might fit your tastes a little bit more.
AMELIA: I was like, “Dee reads books, too.” [laughs]
CAITLIN: [jokingly] No, Dee doesn’t read.
DEE: I did see that it was a Canadian writer, I think, wrote it in the ‘90s maybe? I don’t remember the exact, but I did notice that when I was doing some preliminary research to get a feel for the real Miss Hokusai. And yeah, now I kind of want to read that book. I want to know more about this real-life person, because she seems really interesting and neat.
AMELIA: I had to stop myself, even in the screening room with just me and a friend, I had to stop myself Googling every five minutes, going to the Hokusai Wikipedia and seeing what was real and what was documented and what was probably not based in reality.
CAITLIN: The anime takes place in 1814, so she’s actually pretty young.
DEE: Oh, wow, she is.
AMELIA: So, she’s 14?
CAITLIN: Yeah, about.
DEE: Well, we don’t know exactly when she was born.
CAITLIN: We don’t know her exact—yeah, we don’t know her exact year of birth.
AMELIA: She’s a very good artist for her teens.
CAITLIN: She is. I mean… Oh, yeah, she’s very talented. I’ve seen talented artists in their teens.
DEE: She really is.
CAITLIN: And it always makes me really mad!
AMELIA: Well, that would have been—again—a good sense of context to have, but I don’t think this film was about giving you context at all, and it deliberately did not give you more information. It deliberately did not tie up loose ends. I’m almost not sure why they bothered with that little epilogue text at the end. It didn’t really add anything. It raised more questions than it answered.
CAITLIN: And I think it’s possible that it’s expected that the audience would know at least something about her, about O-Ei.
AMELIA: Oh, really?
DEE: Certainly about her dad.
CAITLIN: I mean, I don’t know. I don’t know how known she is. Hokusai is definitely known.
AMELIA: Sure, but how much would you know about details of his life? I mean, there are many famous British artists from, what, 200-odd years ago that I haven’t got a clue about except their name.
DEE: Yeah, but Hokusai’s real—just based on some of the reading I’ve done, it sounds like Hokusai was kind of famous for being a bit of a character. So, I guess if I was going to compare him, it might be like Van Gogh is to a lot of Europe or the Western world, where it’s like we all know a few weird anecdotal stories about him.
He’s got that aspect of him, as well, so I could see people going into this being like, “Oh, yeah, Hokusai.” He’s kind of a folk legend, almost, at this point. Don’t quote me on that. I don’t know for sure. That’s just based on some of the preliminary reading I did, is that there might be an assumption that the audience knows more about the time period and the character than—the target audience, which, again, would be people in Japan—than us folks in the United States and England would know immediately.
DEE: I thought they did a good job of giving me a good idea of what the world was like, without necessarily explaining things with lots of “this is how things were back then” sort of expository dialogue.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] It really brought the time period to life.
DEE: And truthfully, when I’m watching historical fiction, I would rather be a little confused than have them constantly expositing at me via internal monologues. So, I will take that sense of “this is how things were done; just roll with it” than the other way, for sure.
AMELIA: That’s totally true, and I do think that this was one of those films that wasn’t quite made for me, and that’s okay. Not everything is made for me, and I’m quite well catered to with things like Studio Ghibli, which does do that very linear narrative very often.
DEE: Oh, yeah.
CAITLIN: Well, I personally think that everything should be made for me.
CAITLIN: And fortunately, this movie was.
AMELIA: That’s good.
CAITLIN: [laughs] I do have one final question. And I’m always very much—this question is not always useful when discussing a work, but I do think it’s relevant here.
AMELIA: Oh, I know what you’re going to ask.
CAITLIN: Is this movie feminist?
AMELIA: Caitlin, you put together an entire presentation on why this is a bad question to ask and not useful and not productive.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] I’m saying—and so, it means that it means a lot when I do take the time to ask the question.
AMELIA: Very interesting. [laughs]
CAITLIN: I don’t know.
DEE: I’m very hesitant to slap the feminist [label]—‘cause it feels like we’re rubber-stamping something. I would say—
CAITLIN: I am, too. Listen, you know I am.
DEE: Yeah! I would say it absolutely has feminist themes. I would say it is feminist-friendly. Again, I think it does a really good job of showing a historical time period when women were very much second-class citizens, but does not… But gives you this historical moment and this famous historical painter-figure through the eyes of somebody who maybe is somewhat forgotten by history, and that being a woman, the marginalized group of the time. I think that’s great.
And I found myself comparing this movie to In This Corner of the World and Hidden Figures a little bit, sometimes, because of that sense of “they didn’t write their names on it, but they were absolutely integral to the process,” kind of thing. And I think we need more stories like that. I think it’s important that we have fiction about women and other marginalized groups who were absolutely a part of these great works and achievements that get left out of history books a lot of the time.
So, I think the very fact that Miss Hokusai focuses on that element and does so in a way where O-Ei—again, a character who we all liked a lot—is admirable and real and has flaws but is still somebody who you can admire a little bit, I think all that’s very good and, again, feminist friendly. So… [hesitantly] yes? Rubber stamp? I don’t know.
AMELIA: I say no. No rubber stamp! I take the rubber stamp and smack it out of your hand. No! Reason being—
DEE: Okay. No rubber stamp.
AMELIA: [laughs] Basically—
CAITLIN: Yeah, listen, I’m not asking for a rubber stamp.
AMELIA: Caitlin, you’re starting fights. This is not very feminist of you.
CAITLIN: [laughs] Good! It’s good listening.
DEE: And, again, I really don’t want to be like, “Yes, this movie is feminist,” but I think it’s definitely feminist-friendly. I would have no troubles recommending this movie to my feminist friends.
AMELIA: And I think that’s the key distinction. Now, I looked at this in real detail when we were first starting Anime Feminist, like “How do I describe this as being something that feminists will appreciate without calling it a feminist text?” because I do think—you know, I agree with the presentation you did, Caitlin, which I enjoyed very much indeed when I saw it—which is that you have to do something more than just present a story about a feminist to make it a feminist film, for example.
AMELIA: So, you can’t—O-Ei is absolutely… She challenged gender norms and so on. But that’s not what the film is about, and it doesn’t ever interrogate that; it doesn’t ever make that a point of the story. It is what it is. You walk in and that’s it: the world’s set that way. And it’s not like the world has accepted her. It’s not like she successfully smashed those norms. She’s just found workarounds for it. So, I don’t think you could call this a feminist text. But absolutely, feminist -friendly. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to feminist friends. Completely agree with you, Dee.
AMELIA: Go on, Caitlin. What’s your thought?
CAITLIN: [laughs] I would say it’s very low-key feminist, is my thought.
AMELIA: Low-key feminist? Okay.
CAITLIN: Very, yes, low-key.
CAITLIN: As opposed to like, The Woman Called Fujiko Mine, which is high-key feminist.
DEE: Yeah, like explicit, very much the point of the narrative that is—I don’t want to say, “shoved in your face,” because that makes it sound like I didn’t like it, and I did, but yeah. It’s all out there. Sorry, continue.
CAITLIN: So, I do think that it does have a very specific point of view about O-Ei’s life as a woman in these conditions, as opposed to just an interesting historical figure or as a painter who happened to live in this time period or as someone who was living around this brilliant man, which is what a lot of movie reviewers seem to see it as.
The scenes where Kuninao mansplains to her or tells her that she’s not like other girls, that’s such a familiar conversation. And the fact that O-Ei has zero interest in it, I feel like… Small things like that do say things to me, that this is something written with a perspective, even though it was directed by a man… Actually, who wrote this movie? Um… It was written by a woman. So, that does show the perspective of someone who in reality has experience with that and wants to express that “this is something that is exhausting and frustrating” in a very low-key way.
AMELIA: See, that’s—
CAITLIN: So, I do feel like it has some feminist threads to it. And also, just the choice of O-Ei, of choosing to make the movie about her instead of about her famous father; instead of making it about Zenjiro, who is also a historical figure. That sort of stuff.
I think there were a lot of choices made in this movie that is made for general audiences, that’s not made for special interest art nerds or special interest women’s audience—I mean, it sucks that “women” is considered a special interest, but, you know, it is what it is, right? So, the fact that a lot of these choices were made specifically and consciously, I do think, gives it, like I said, a sort of low-key feminism.
DEE: Mm-hm. More implicit than explicit.
AMELIA: And, see, that’s not good enough for me. That’s not enough. I think, for example, you took the scene where she ignores Kuninao’s advances, so, okay, we’ve averted that trope; we’ve not subverted it in any way. We’ve not even addressed it. It just happens. We see a microaggression that we experience on the screen—
DEE: I mean, hasn’t the act of seeing it and having the female character be unimpressed by it, doesn’t that address it? You don’t have to have somebody turn around and give an extensive speech about why something isn’t okay for it to be addressed in a film. Or in a work of art.
AMELIA: [crosstalk] I think there’s a big spectrum between “sidesteps it completely” and “gives a long speech.” I feel like there would have been a middle ground which would have addressed it a bit more, and it wasn’t enough that I could call it “feminist” at this point.
CAITLIN: See, I think her response is just… The fact that I could see, that I could feel her: “Are you serious right now?” I don’t think that was just projecting, that she’s—
DEE: I don’t know, I got that sense, too. I got that sense, too, Caitlin.
CAITLIN: —just like, “Are you kidding me that this dude is doing this right now?” There’s a weariness to it.
AMELIA: [crosstalk] See, I didn’t get that. Yeah, I got that she was kind of bored of it, but, again, it didn’t seem enough for me, [chuckles] so maybe I’ve just got simpler tastes and I need things spelled out for me, but I couldn’t call this—
CAITLIN: [jokingly] Maybe you’re just not smart enough for this movie, Amelia.
AMELIA: Maybe I’m just not smart enough for this film.
DEE: [shocked laughter]
AMELIA: That is entirely a possibility.
AMELIA: I don’t think I could ever recommend this as a feminist film. It doesn’t go far enough, I think, whereas something like Hidden Figures, which is about dismantling the system which keeps these women in an inferior position, that’s what the film is about. You don’t get that in this film, and it doesn’t ever address it as directly as Hidden Figures does. Hidden Figures, great film, by the way. Everyone should see it. Got a few problems.
DEE: Oh, yeah.
AMELIA: But I think you could safely call that a feminist film for those reasons.
DEE: Yeah, it’s definitely more—
AMELIA: [crosstalk] We can agree to disagree. [laughs]
DEE: We can, for sure.
CAITLIN: I think we’re gonna have to.
DEE: Again, it was a comparison that happened in my head, because I also recently saw Hidden Figures, which, again, I agree with you, great movie. It is more explicitly addressing those themes, and I think Miss Hokusai is more implicit. And I think that’s fine.
Again, I think that’s part of the film’s restraint, which is both a strength and a detriment to it at times; that sense of wanting to address a lot of things from a sideways angle. And I appreciate that in movies, in most works of fiction. I appreciate trusting the audience and not feeling like you have to spell everything out. But you already run the risk that it’s not going to hit as hard. So, you know, I’m going to take some kind of a middle ground, I guess, here.
DEE: I’m gonna be wishy-washy.
AMELIA: You’re gonna be the mediator. That’s fine. No, I would’ve just loved, in that moment where Kuninao’s being “You’re not like other girls,” if would’ve been nice if she said to him, “Do you actually know any other women painters?” or something to challenge him in the scene. And we don’t get that.
She avoids it, but you know what, that is really true to her character consistently. She avoids the stuff that’s annoying to deal with, and she deals with the stuff that she wants to deal with. So, it’s consistent characterization, at least.
CAITLIN: Okay. Should we close out? Any final thoughts?
DEE: It was a good movie. I liked it. Final thought. [laughs]
CAITLIN: Yeah. It’s a good movie. Pretty movie. Good movie. Watch it if you have a chance.
DEE: [crosstalk] Check it out, folks. It’s on Netflix in the US, currently.
AMELIA: [crosstalk] It’s not here.
DEE: Amelia, I don’t know if it’s on—it’s not in the UK? Okay, well, check your Netflix; you might have it available.
DEE: [laughs] So, it might be easy to track down. If not, I think it’s on DVD. So, worth checking out.
AMELIA: Or screening at anime conventions.
CAITLIN: All right. So, if you enjoyed this podcast and would like to listen to more or read some more posts along similar lines of thought, you can check out our site at animefeminist.com or our Twitter @AnimeFeminist, our Facebook, which is AnimeFem, or our Tumblr, animefeminist.tumblr.com.
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