People Still Call It Love -The Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme 2019

her love boils bathwater still 2The Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme is back for 2019 with another handpicked selection of recent (and not so recent) Japanese cinema. This year’s theme is “love” and there is certainly an array on offer from the familial to the romantic and everything in between.

My Friend ‘A’

My Friend A still 1Toma Ikuta stars as a failed journalist working in a small factory who befriends an introverted co-worker (Eita) only to begin to suspect that he may be connected to a series of child murders 17 years previously. One of two films released by Takahisa Zeze (The 8-Year Engagement) in 2018.

Destiny: The Tale of Kamakura

Destiny Kamakura horizontalCharming fantasy adventure from Takashi Yamazaki adapting the popular 80s manga by Ryohei Saigan in which a newlywed eccentric author finds himself travelling to the underworld to retrieve his wife who has been taken there as a result of a bizarre clerical error (and a little yokai interference). Review.

Thicker Than Water

Ken-en bannerComedy drama from Hime-anole‘s Keisuke Yoshida in which two pairs of mismatched siblings go head to head. Masataka Kubota stars as a hard working salesman whose conventional existence is threatened by the return of his rowdy ex-con brother (Hirofumi Arai). Meanwhile, Yuria (Keiko Enoue) runs the family business and takes care of her bedridden grandfather while her younger, prettier sister (Miwako Kakei) is an out of work actress with a tendency to flirt with just about everyone she meets.

Pumpkin and Mayonnaise

Pumpkin and Mayonnaise still 1Tsuchida (Asami Usuda) has decided to financially support her singer-songwriter boyfriend Seiichi (Taiga) but he doesn’t know she’s supplementing her income with a part-time job at hostess bar to make ends meet. Meanwhile, her head is turned by an old flame (Joe Odagiri) in Masanori Tominaga’s adaptation of the popular manga by Kiriko Nananan. Review.

Tremble All You Want

tremble all you want still 1Intensely shy and socially awkward, 24-year-old Yoshika (Mayu Matsuoka) lives in a fantasy world and spends her free time engaging in her favourite hobby of looking up extinct animals on the internet. Harbouring a long standing crush on a middle-school classmate she nicknames “Ichi” (no. 1), her existence is shaken by the unexpected attention of a colleague she refers to as “Ni” (no. 2). An ultimately uplifting yet sometimes heartbreaking tale of learning to forget about anxiety and just live anyway from genre veteran Akiko Ohku. Review.

Dear Etranger

Dear Etranger still 2Tadanobu Asano stars as a man who’s taken the unusual decision to prioritise family life over career but finds himself conflicted when his second wife reveals she is pregnant with their first child in Yukiko Mishima’s empathic family drama. Review.


Yurigokoro bannerRyosuke’s life is pretty great. He’s about to open his own restaurant and marry his beautiful fiancée Misako, but his happiness is soon ended when his father is diagnosed with late stage pancreatic cancer. Going through his belongings, Ryosuke finds a worrying entry in his father’s diary which implies he may have committed a murder. To make matters worse, Misako suddenly disappears without trace. Naoto Kumazawa adapts the bestselling novel by Mahokaru Numata.

Dad’s Lunch Box

Dad's Bento bannerInspired by a viral news story, Masakazu Fukatsu’s cheerful drama stars former hip hop idol Toshimi Watanabe in a role somewhat echoing his own life seeing as he too published a best selling book filled with pictures of the bento he lovingly crafted for his teenage son. Here he plays a divorced dad doing his best to master the traditionally female art of homemade lunch boxes.

Her Love Boils Bathwater

her love boils bathwater stillCapturing Dad’s Ryota Nakano turns his attention mum! Rie Miyazawa stars as a struggling recently single mother whose husband has run off with another woman that he supposedly got pregnant during a drunken one night stand. Diagnosed with terminal cancer, she sets herself to repairing her fractured family while also resurrecting the family bathhouse in the process. Review.

Blindly In Love

Blindly in loveKentaro, 30-something and single, lives a solitary and isolated life, showing little sign of finding a wife and settling down while his career continues to stagnate. Fearing he will be alone all his life, his parents decide to go to a support group for the similarly afflicted hoping to find a candidate for an arranged marriage. They find only one – Naoko, the daughter of a high ranking salaryman. Naoko’s parents do not disclose the fact that their daughter is blind and also disapprove of Kentaro whom they regard as socially inferior. Nevertheless the pair meet and fall in love but can they overcome the various obstacles to their romance?

The Scythian Lamb

scythian Lamb still 1A small town decides to join a scheme to rehome ex-cons in order to combat rural depopulation but fearing that the local community might not accept the new arrivals if they knew where they came from, the authorities decide to keep it a secret. Prejudice and pragmatism go head to head in Daihachi Yoshida’s adaptation of the manga by Yamagami Tatsuhiko and Igarashi Mikio. Review.

Born Bone Born

Born Bone Born still 1Unmarried pregnant daughter Yuko scandalises her community when she returns home to participate in the bone washing ritual in the second feature from Okinawan comedian Toshiyuki Teruya.

Tonight, at the Movies

Tonight at the movie bannerHaruka Ayase and Kentaro Sakaguchi star in a glitzy tribute to the world of golden age cinema! Sakaguchi plays a struggling assistant director failing to make it in the rapidly declining ’60s film industry while dreaming black and white dreams of a more glamorous era. Then, to his surprise, his favourite leading lady steps out of the silver screen and into his technicolor world…

Where Chimneys Are Seen

vlcsnap-2016-07-07-01h01m06s792Classic from Heinosuke Gosho centring on a collection of people living in a shared house and attempting to survive in the complicated post-war landscape. Ogata (Ken Uehara) is happily married to Hiroko (Kinuyo Tanaka) but begins to doubt her when he learns that she has secretly taken a job at the bicycle races to supplement the family income while the unexpected arrival of an abandoned baby raises another series of questions. Review.

Good Stripes

Good stripes still 1Midori and Masao are 28 years old and they’ve been a couple for four years. With the fire going out of their relationship they consider breaking up but then Midori discovers she is pregnant. Shotgun wedding in the offing, impending parenthood begins to bring them closer together as they finally take the time to get to know each other in the second feature from Yukiko Sode.

Three Stories of Love

Three stories of love bannerThe most recent film from Ryosuke Hashiguchi (Hush!, All Around Us), Three Stories of Love presents a triptych of modern alienation in the stories of a neglected wife, a grief-stricken widower struggling to come to terms with his wife’s murder, and a gay lawyer whose arrogance eventually leads to his downfall and a reunion with a schoolfriend he once loved. 

Penguin Highway

Penguin highway bannerA hyperrational 10-year-old is puzzled by the sudden appearance of a bunch of random penguins in the middle of a hot Japanese summer and tries to solve the mystery all while nursing an adolescent crush on a pretty dental receptionist in Hiroyasu Ishida’s adaptation of the Tomihiko Morimi novel. Review.

Of Love & Law

Of love and law still 1Love Hotel’s Hikaru Toda reunites with Fumi and Kazu who run a law firm in Japan specialising in minority issues and particularly those of the LGBT community. Review.

The Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme 2019 runs at London’s ICA from 2nd to 10th February before touring to:

Full details for all the films are available on the official Touring Film Programme website. You can also keep up to date with all the year round events organised by Japan Foundation London via their main site, Facebook page, and Twitter account.

Summer Explorers! 2018 – Japan Foundation London Free Screening Series Returns Aug. 12&18

summer explorers

Following their announcement of a “Pre-Summer Explorers” series of free film screenings, The Japan Foundation London has now announced the main event which will take place on 12th and 18th of August at the Courthouse Hotel and Regent Street Cinemas.

Sunday 12th August, Courthouse Hotel Cinema

2pm / 6.40pm – His Master’s Voice

HIs Master's Voice still 1

A lowly rakugoka forced to give up his dreams returns home only to discover a new purpose through teaching rakugo to a sad little boy.

4.15pm – Giovanni’s Island

Giovanni's Island still 1Heart rending animation inspired by Kenji Miyazawa’s classic Night on the Galactic Railroad. Brothers Junpei and Kanta face the loss of their home when the northern island of Shikotan is reclaimed by Russian troops in the aftermath of the second world war.

Saturday 18th August, Regent Street Cinema

2.30pm – Chieri and Cherry

Chieri and Cherry still 1Charming puppet animation in which Chieri, who has recently lost her father, develops an intense bond with her stuffed toy, Cherry. Travelling to her grandmother’s house for her father’s funeral, Chieri experiences a fantastic adventure which helps her to cope with grief and fear of the future.

3.50pm – Cat Samurai

cat samurai still 1

A mercenary ronin accepts a commission from dog loving yakuza to wipe out the chief pet of a cat loving clan but on being faced with the adorable creature cannot go through with it!

5.50pm – Oshin

Oshin still1

Retelling of the classic ’80s TV drama covering Oshin’s difficult childhood. 7-year-old Oshin is sold away from her poor family and sent to work in a lumber shop where she experiences cruel injustices, finally being falsely accused of stealing. Running away, Oshin ends up in the mountains living with a kind old man and a deserter from the army who begins to teach her how to read and write.

All the screenings are free to attend but must be booked in advance. You can find more information about the screening series on the Japan Foundation’s official website and eflyer and you can keep up with all the latest news via their Twitter Account and Facebook page.

Pre-Summer Explorers – Japan Foundation London’s Free Screening Series Returns

summer explorers

Japan Foundation London is back for an additional slice of seasonal fun with another series of free film screenings taking place on 4, 5, and 11th August. All the screenings are free to attend but must be booked in advance.

4th August, Soho Hotel Cinema

5.15pm : NHK WORLD-JAPAN Double Bill (Part 1)


Two NHK documentaries focussing on traditional subjects. A Tale of Love & Honour: Life in Gion takes a look at the fiercely traditional world of Kyoto’s tea house society, while Living Ninja Legend Masaaki Hatsumi explores the life of an 84-year-old ninja master.


House still 1.jpg

Nobuhiko Obayashi’s famed psychedlic musical horror comedy in which a group of young women decide to take a trip to the country only to find themselves besieged by man eating pianos and creepy cats!

5th August, Courthouse Hotel Cinema

2.15pm: Summer Wars

Summer Wars still 1

Mamoru Hosoda’s breakthrough feature follows the summer adventures of maths genius and moderator of online world Oz Kenji Koiso as he is unexpectedly invited on a trip with his crush, Natsuki, only to be expected to play the part of her fake fiancé whilst also dealing with a vast internet-based conspiracy.

4.30pm: NHK WORLD-JAPAN Double Bill (Part 2)

telephone of the wind

Another two NHK docs: My Small Steps from Hiroshima tells the story of  anti-nuclear campaigner Kaoru Ogura, while The Phone of the Wind: Whispers to Lost Families looks at the disconnected telephone which bereaved families use to call their loved ones lost in the 2011 tsunami.

6.40pm: Kikujiro

Kikujiro still 1A summery treat indeed – Takeshi Kitano’s whimsical gem sees a grumpy middle-aged man forced to take a lonely little boy on a roadtrip to track down his long absent mum whilst also dealing with his own complicated family legacies. Review.

11th August, Soho Hotel Cinema

2.15pm: Only Yesterday 

only yestrday still 1

A disillusioned young woman from Tokyo decides to take a trip to the country and finds herself meditating on her past selves in an underseen gem from the late Isao Takahata.

4.40pm: Napping Princess 

napping princess still

Sleepy high schooler Kokone should be focussing on her university entrance exams or making the most of her last summer holiday but finds herself becoming increasingly entrenched in the strange goings on in her dreamland. Kenji Kamiyama makes his first foray into family animation with this charming coming of tale. Review.

7pm: Mitsuko Delivers

Mitsuko delivers horizontal posterMitsuko, a cheerful woman who likes to help people, has returned to Japan pregnant, broke, and alone after being abandoned by her American boyfriend. Going where the wind blows her, Mitsuko ends up returning to her home town and letting it all hang out while she solves everyone else’s problems in one of Yuya Ishii’s early whimsical comedies.

All the screenings are free to attend but must be booked in advance. On 11th August The Japan Foundation will also be running a brief Japanese language taster session from 3.30 – 6.30pm at Soho Hotel Cinema. You can find more information about the screening series on the Japan Foundation’s official website and eflyer and you can keep up with all the latest news via their Twitter Account and Facebook page.

(Un)true Colours: Secrets and Lies in Japanese Cinema – The Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme 2018

the long excuse still 2The Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme returns for 2018 with another diverse selection of recent and not so recent Japanese cinema. This year’s theme is secrets and lies and each of the films on offer attempts to shine a light on the various delusions at the heart of everyday life.

After School

after school landscapeYo Oizumi stars as a high school teacher investigating the disappearance of a friend in another darkly comic, twist filled farce from Kenji Uchida (Weekend Blues, A Stranger of Mine).

Birds Without Names

birds without names still 1Kazuya Shiraishi (Dawn of the Felines) adapts the popular novel by Mahokaru Numata in which a young woman (Yu Aoi) lives with an older man (Sadao Abe) but continues to pine for an old boyfriend who has apparently been missing for the last five years…

The Dark Maidens

Dark MaidensWhen a schoolgirl falls off a roof foul play is suspected. Who better to investigate than her fellow members of the literature club at an elite academy catering to the daughters of the rich and famous?

Gukoroku – Traces of Sin

gukouroku stillA young reporter (Satoshi Tsumabuki) investigates the brutal murder of a model family whilst trying to support his younger sister (Hikari Mitsushima) who is currently in prison for child neglect while his nephew remains in critical condition in hospital. Interviewing friends and acquaintances of the deceased, disturbing truths emerge concerning the systemic evils of social inequality. Review.

Screenwriter Kosuke Mukai will be present for a Q&A following screenings at the ICA, Watershed Bristol, and MacRobert Arts Centre, Stirling. 

Initiation Love

initiation love still 1Based on a best selling romantic novel which captured the hearts of readers across Japan, Initiation Love sets out to expose the dark and disturbing underbelly of real life romance by completely reversing everything you’ve just seen in a gigantic twist five minutes before the film ends…

Japanese Girls Never Die

Japanese Girls Never DieA young woman goes missing and unwittingly becomes the face of a social movement in Daigo Matsui’s anarchic examination of a misogynistic society.

Joy of Man’s Desiring

joy of man's desiringA brother and sister are orphaned after a natural disaster and taken in by relatives but struggle to come to terms with the aftermath of such great loss.

The Long Excuse

the long excuse stillMiwa Nishikawa adapts her own novel in which a self-centred novelist is forced to face his own delusions when his wife is killed in a freak bus accident. Review.

Actor Masahiro Motoki will be present for a Q&A following the screening at London’s ICA.

Memoirs of a Murderer

Memoirs of a Murderer still 1When the statute of limitations passes on a series of unsolved murders, a mysterious man (Tatsuya Fujiwara) suddenly comes forward and confesses while the detective (Hideaki Ito) who is still haunted by his inability to catch the killer has his doubts in Yu Irie’s adaptation of Jung Byoung-Gil’s Korean crime thriller Confession of Murder.

Director Yu Irie will be present for a Q&A following screenings at Showroom Sheffield, Broadway Nottingham, and Queen’s Film Theatre Belfast. He will also be visiting London for a special event on March 24 (full details TBC).

The Mole Song: Undercover Agent Reiji

mole song stillToma Ikuta stars as maverick cop Reiji in Takashi Miike’s madcap manga adaptation. Reiji has been kicked off the force for trying to arrest a councillor who was molesting a teenage girl but gets secretly rehired to go undercover in Japan’s best known yakuza conglomerate.

MUMON: The Land of Stealth

mumon stillYoshihiro Nakamura (Snow White Murder Case, Golden Slumber) journeys back to the feudal era as a lazy ninja faces the twin pressures of Oda Nobunaga and his newly wedded wife’s material concerns.

Room for Let

room for let dvd coverYuzo Kawashima would have turned 100 in 2018. A comic tale of life on the Osakan margins, Room For Let is a perfect example of the director’s well known talent for satire and stars popular comedian Frankie Sakai as an eccentric writer/translator-cum-konnyaku-maker whose life is turned upside down when a pretty young potter moves into the building.

Oh Lucy!

oh lucy still 2Embittered 55 year old OL Setsuko gets a new lease on life when introduced to an unusual English conversation teacher, John, who gives her a blonde wig and rechristens her Lucy. “Lucy” falls head over heels for the American stranger and decides to follow him all the way to the states… Review.

Sing My Life

sing-my-life-horizontal.jpgA remake of Korean hit Miss Granny, Sing My Life stars Mitsuko Baisho as an evil granny who gets a second chance to experience the happiness of which she was cruelly robbed in her youth when she’s magically transformed into her 20 year old self (Mikako Tabe) and ends up becoming the lead singer in her grandson’s rock band!

Sword of the Stranger

sword of the stranger still 1A small boy recruits the mysterious samurai “No Name” as a bodyguard after his dog is injured in an ambush in the landmark animation from 2007.

Where I Belong

Where I belong landscape posterA no good lowlife makes his way by stealing from elderly women but experiences a change of heart when he’s taken in by a kindly old lady deep in the mountains.

The Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme runs at London’s ICA from 2nd – 11th February, 2018 before touring to:

You can keep up with all the latest news via the Japan Foundation’s official website, Twitter Account, and Facebook Page.

Archipelago: Exploring the Landscape of Contemporary Japanese Women Filmmakers

©Little More Co.

wild berries posterFollowing the last series of free film screenings which took place over the summer, the Japan Foundation London is back this winter for a season of films dedicated to female filmmakers. Archipelago: Exploring the Landscape of Contemporary Japanese Women Filmmakers features two narrative films and a documentary as well as a panel discussion chaired by Kate Taylor with Jasper Sharp, Alejandra Armendáriz Hernández, and the season’s curator Irene Silvera.

Bare Essence of Life

©Little More Co.Released in 2009, the second feature from Satoko Yokohama stars Kenichi Matsuyama as Yojin – an Aomori farm boy who lives on a slightly different plane of existence to everyone else. When a pretty school teacher (played by Kumiko Aso) arrives from Tokyo, Yojin becomes determined to win her heart, whatever the eventual costs may be!

Screening at Courthouse Cinema on 30th November, 6.30pm.

Death of a Japanese Salesman

ending note still 1.jpgAlso known as Ending Note, Mami Sunada’s documentary follows the last days of her father, a lifelong salaryman who retired aged 67 only to be diagnosed with terminal cancer soon after. Realising that he had only a short time left to live, Sunada began preparing for his death, creating his own bucket list and thinking about the “ending note” (a kind of personal testament) that he would leave behind for his family.

Screening at Courthouse Cinema, 1st December 6.30pm

Wild Berries

wild berries still 1Miwa Nishikawa whose The Long Excuse has been doing the festival rounds this year began her career as a student staff member on Koreeda’s Afterlife before ADing on Yoshimitsu Morita’s Black House and then again for Koreeda on Distance. Released in 2003 and produced by Koreeda, Wild Berries is her debut feature and neatly mixes the influences of both her mentors in an anarchic family drama. The Akechis had been getting along just fine until prodigal son Shuji decided to return bringing a few chickens home to roost with him.

Screening at Rich Mix, 2nd December 12pm

Panel Discussion

©Little More Co.Directly after the screening of Wild Berries, there will be a panel discussion examining the rise of female filmmakers over the last 15 years. Chaired by Kate Taylor – East Asian programmer for the BFI London Film Festival, the panel will also feature film scholar Jasper Sharp (co-founder of Midnight Eye, author of Behind the Pink Curtain), film researcher Alejandra Armendáriz Hernández, and the season’s curator, Irene Silvera.

The Panel Discussion takes place at Rich Mix, 2nd December, 2.30pm.

In conjunction with the series, there will also be a screening of Naoko Ogigami’s Rent-a-Cat as part of the regular free screenings programme at the Japanese Embassy on 22nd November. Tickets are free and can be booked by the usual methods following the instructions on the Embassy’s Filmshow page.

More information can be found on Japan Foundation London’s website – each of the screenings is free to attend but tickets must be booked in advance.

You can also keep up to date with all the latest Japan Foundation events via their official Twitter account and Facebook Page.

Japan Foundation London’s Celebration of Culinary Cinema Returns for Second Helpings!

A-Tale-of-Samurai-Cooking-teaserFollowing their recent series of foodie films, The Japan Foundation London is back with a few more tasty morsels this August.

tale of samurai cooking still 2First up, A Tale of Samurai Cooking: A True Love Story proves that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach (rather than through his chest with a sword). Headstrong Haru (Aya Ueto) gets “sent back” from her first marriage and then receives an interesting proposal from the Emperor’s own samurai cooks thanks to her awesome skills in the kitchen. Her husband to be, Yasunobu (Kengo Kora), is very unhappy about this seeing as he still wants to be a “real” samurai and is nursing a broken heart. Review.

A Tale of Samurai Cooking screens at Courthouse Cinema, 23rd August, 6.30pm.

chef of south polar stillBased on the writings of the real Jun Nishimura, Shuichi Okita’s The Chef of South Polar follows a put upon chef as he’s forced to leave his family and become the sole cook for seven research scientists marooned at the South Pole for a whole year. Despite the hazardous conditions Nishimura keeps churning out beautifully presented dishes while the guys all go slowly mad together. Review.

Chef of the South Polar screens at Courthouse Cinema on 24th August, 6.30pm

An stillNaomi Kawase’s An (Sweet Bean) is a less comedic tale of inter-generational friendship, social injustice and continuing stigma towards those suffering illness, and a celebration of tradition passed from one era to the next. Masatoshi Nagase plays a struggling doriaki chef who gets a few tips from a strange old lady (Kirin Kiki). He originally turns her down for a job at his stand because of her age and gnarled hands, but tasting her bean paste, there is no way he can refuse.

An (Sweet Bean) screens at Rich Mix on Saturday 26th August, 12.45pm.

tampopo stillAnd finally the greatest food movie of them all – Juzo Itami’s Tampopo! This iconic comedy follows the titular widow as she tries to make a success of her ramen stand with the help of lonely truck drivers Goro and Gun. While Tampopo is busy with her noodles, Itami ventures off on a cultural odyssey to explore the various ways food is used and misused in Japanese society. Review.

Tampopo screens at Rich Mix on Saturday 26th August, 3.15pm.

You can find further details for all the films on the Japan Foundation London website. Tickets are free but must be reserved in advance and you can only register to attend two of the four screenings (if you apply for more than two you will be placed on the waiting list for the extra ones). A Tale of Samurai Cooking and Chef of the South Polar are currently fully booked but you can still apply to join the waiting list and be notified should spaces become available.

Miss Hokusai (百日紅, Keiichi Hara, 2015)

MISS_HOKUSAI_teaser_A4_oldpaper_1600When it comes to the great Japanese artworks that everybody knows, the figure of Hokusai looms large. From the ubiquitous The Great Wave off Kanagawa to the infamous Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife, the work of Hokusai has come to represent the art of Edo woodblocks almost single handedly in the popular imagination yet there has long been scholarly debate about the true artist behind some of the pieces which are attributed to his name. Hokusai had a daughter – uniquely gifted, perhaps even surpassing the skills of her father, O-Ei was a talented artist in her own right as well as her father’s assistant and caregiver in his old age.

Miss Hokusai, based on the popular 1980s manga Sarusuberi by Hinako Sugiura, takes up O-Ei’s story towards the beginning of her career before her marriage and subsequent divorce, after which she returned to her father’s side to nurse him as his health declined. Like the manga, the film is a collection of scenes from Edo life loosely tied together by its overarching theme, but broadly follows O-Ei as she lives her life as a young woman with a level of forthrightness and determination which sets her apart from the women of the time. Determined to become an artist, she lives with her father in their studio where neither of them cooks or cleans but each devotes themselves solely to art. Also living with them at the time is an ex-samurai and aspiring artist, Zenjiro, who specialises in erotica which has its own particular qualities even if his skills aren’t on a par with Hokusai or O-Ei.

When not in her father’s studio, O-Ei likes to visit her younger sister who, ironically, was born blind and is being cared for by the local nuns. O-Nao’s blindness is a sore spot for her father who hardly ever visits her, feeling as if her lack of sight is some sort of cosmic slight against him – the master painter with the daughter unable to appreciate his art and therefore his entire life philosophy. O-Ei is not so rigid and delights taking the girl out on trips where she can experience the world through her richly developed other senses. O-Nao particularly likes visiting the bridge with its complicated soundscape from the river below to the vendors above and all the passersby. There’s also a lovely set piece in which a young boy who quickly figures out that O-Nao can’t see tries to entertain her by knocking snow off a tree. Miss Hokusai, though a story of visual art, has an especially intricate sound design which proves that you can paint with materials other than ink and makes a point of calling out the stubbornness inherent in the world view of someone like Hokusai whose singleminded vision has become his entire universe.

O-Ei has her fair share of troubles as a young woman, though living with her father as his assistant she is a relatively free and unsheltered one. Her father doesn’t hide any aspect of his work from her – she even assists him with his erotic pieces and is said to be a particularly fine painter of women though her male figures lack conviction. “Sensation” itself becomes a theme, art is something which must be felt and therefore must have feeling imbued within it. As an unmarried woman O-Ei is ill equipt to complete these kinds of assignments and some say perhaps she should not be given them though her determination would never permit her to turn them down leading to rather a strange interlude in which she tries to gain some “experience” in a presumably “safe” way which won’t have much effect on her later life.

Less successfully, the film also attempts to enter the realm of the supernatural as we learn a painting can have other effects on the viewer particularly if it isn’t completed in the proper fashion. From a possessed geisha to a woman driven mad by O-Ei’s suitably creepy painting which features terrifying scenes from hell, Miss Hokusai most definitely occupies a world where ghosts, spirits and demons are real things which co-exist with real people. Luckily, Hokusai is able to fix the problem with the disturbing painting by closing its symbolic imagery with a suitable addition whilst berating O-Ei for having cut corners and not properly complete her vision so as to leave the onlooker “haunted” in an unintended way. Again, the painter is parent to the painting which attains the kind of immortality impossible for its creator in this transient world.

Clearly bound-up with the notion of transience, Miss Hokusai makes a valiant attempt to bring ordinary Edo living with its geisha houses, dusty rooms and drinking songs to life in vivid detail. However, its message becomes slightly confused with the superimposition of the modern Tokyo in the final frame of the film. At this point, the rather bizarre choice of a modern, electric guitar based soundtrack, begins to make a degree of sense at least on a thematic level but nowhere near enough to mitigate its jarring presence throughout the film.

Animated by animation powerhouse Production I.G who have been responsible for some of the most beautifully made animated movies of recent times, Miss Hokusai is a giant step up from Hara’s previous film, Colorful, in terms of its execution and boasts a number of scenes which are remarkable in their technical proficiency. The sky in particular as well as the background in general takes on a dreamy, woodblock style which is perfectly fitting for the film’s themes. An interesting look at the young O-Ei, an inexperienced female artist still looking for her voice in a world where the only thing that counts is the signature, Miss Hokusai doesn’t quite succeed in breathing life into its disparate collection of tales but makes a valiant attempt all the same.

Miss Hokusai is currently touring the UK with the Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme 2016 and will be released by All the Anime later in the year.