It's a slow, civilised animated film in which nothing much happens. Artists paint pictures. I was clock-watching a bit, but I made it through and I quite liked it.
It's about the daughter of Hokusai (1760-1849). You'll know of Hokusai's work, even if you don't think you do. Type his name into Google image search. He's the best-known Japanese artist and you'll recognise his pictures from postcards, tea towels and so on. His most famous picture is called "tsunami". (I've just asked Tomoko if she agrees with that and she said "one of the most famous", but agreed that he's probably the most famous internationally.) Judging by this film, he was also a right weirdo and a bit of a challenge to live with. He doesn't care about anything except art. He doesn't smoke. He doesn't drink. He doesn't seem interested in romance, although there's an ex-wife living nearby and he did manage to produce a few children somewhere along the line. Hokusai's house contains:
(a) lots of rubbish, since no one tidies up
(b) Hokusai, who's grumpy, famous and currently about fifty
(c) Hokusai's daughter Oei, who's a lot like him. They're both top-flight professional artists, although she sells all her work under his name, as an uncredited assistant. She's judgemental, independent, focused on her work and almost entirely uninterested in romance. (Her few and unsuccessful dabblings with this come late in the film and are mostly prompted by artistic criticism. Her sex paintings aren't selling well, since they're technically accomplished but not sexy.)
(d) a womanising ex-samurai, Zenjirou Ikeda, who paints bad pictures and lives with them for no obvious reason.
(e) a dog. Zenjirou let it in one day. I was astonished that Hokusai didn't immediately boot it out, since the floor's covered in paintings and Hokusai's not a man to forgive little accidents.
Don't expect this film to have a plot. It's showing us the lives of Hokusai and Oei, starting in 1814. They paint. They discuss paintings. The latter is quite cool, actually, as it is whenever you have opinionated professionals at the top of their trade talking shop. Their discussions feel real. They have to handle clients and work around stuff that went wrong. They have emergency deadlines and all-nighters.
The film also has Oei's blind half-sister. A man who lived only for art had a blind daughter. (She asks about colours.) I don't know if she's real, but she certainly gives the film a great deal of its force. She's also ill, which is another difficult point for her father. A blind sick girl could easily have capsized the film by being melodramatic, but in fact it's handled calmly and delicately. Oei keeps visiting her and taking her out on walks, heading off the girl's worries that perhaps her father hates her.
This isn't an exciting film, but it's a rich one and I'm glad I saw it. It feels honest. I showed me another life and another world. When I watch biographical films, sometimes I wonder how the real person would have reacted to them. Here, I like to think they'd approve. I'd have particularly liked to show this to Oei. She was a talented, furiously dedicated artist whose life and posthumous reputation were always mostly in her father's shadow, but here she's the one holding our attention. I like that.