Paying Court to Miss Hokusai

Welcome, all, again.  I recently had the pleasure of watching the debut Memphis showing of Miss Hokusai, and I was floored!  The winner of multiple awards, this is a powerful piece of cinema which uses episodic exposition of familial relationships to explore the concept of yugen, a term once explained to me as “the beauty of the sadness of being human.”  A real mouthful of an explanation, right?  But as foreign as the idea might initially seem, it lends itself to a certain subversive familiarity when interpreted as an almost weightier incarnation of the term melancholy.  Quietly assertive, Miss Hokusai shines most when examining that pain and desolation which only love can cause.

27487491                         Hokusai’s The Great Wave off Kanagawa

The story told is a fictionalized account of the relationship between historical figures Katsushika Hokusai and his daughter Katsushika Oi, both artists of the Edo period.  Hokusai became best-known for stylized portrayals of waves and mountains (particularly Mount Fuji), while Oi was renowned as a painter of beautiful women; both also produced erotica.  Furthermore–and as shown within the movie–Oi worked alongside her father as an assistant to his work.  Contemporary accounts indicate that they seem to have respected each other’s talent.  In Miss Hokusai, however, Hokusai’s opinions of Oi’s work (and person) are often condescending, while her own respect towards him is cast as rather begrudging and clouded by her disappointment in his personal conduct.

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But that is itself understandable, as the movie casts Oi as the conduit of emotional consternation concerning her fractured family.  Her parents are divorced, and Oi stays with her father.  (In reality, Oi’s mother–Hokusai’s second wife–died early in Oi’s childhood.)  Meanwhile, Oi’s blind younger sister O-nao has been left in the care of a female religious order.  O-nao’s condition creates great strain for her parents, but Oi dearly loves her younger sister and visits her often.  Being an artist herself, Oi is understanding and even reluctantly accepting of her father’s selfish and judgmental attitudes, but cannot abide his avoidance of his younger daughter or the emotional distance he places between himself and his family.  And when Oi gets fed-up, even the great Hokusai needs to tread warily!

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At its core, Miss Hokusai is a movie about choosing to love in the face of human failings.  Indeed, disappointment and bitterness flavor most of the relationships portrayed, muting even moments of otherwise supreme triumph for the characters.  We watch Hokusai alternately bully and cajole one daughter, while almost completely ignoring the other; the girls’ mother seems powerless to intercede.  (At one point, Hokusai even derides Oi’s lack of sexual experience, saying that it retards her development as both an artist and a person.  Father-of-the-Year material, right?)  And we re-learn old lessons: life is unfair; might makes right; the people closest to you are the ones who can hurt you most.  Strong and perceptive musical choices help build the emotional impact of this visually beautiful movie–that nonetheless takes viewers into myriad uncomfortable situations, some even sporting veneers of joy.  Be ready to end this one feeling deeply moved but slightly adrift.

[Parental Note: Definitely not for younger children, particularly scenes involving an onnagata, a male prostitute who specialized in female impersonation but assumed the role of either gender depending upon client preference.  Beyond that incident are themes of parental abandonment, betrayal of familial obligation, and the impermanence of love.  If you do bring a child, get ready to do a LOT of explaining. . .]

[Addendum: I mentioned that both Hokusai and Oi produced erotica (shunga).  If you’ve ever been curious as to the origins of the “tentacle rape” phenomenon in manga and anime, view Hokusai’s The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife.  This particular fetish has been around in Japanese art for a while. . .]

 

Current Musical Notes (10-16-2016)…

Welcome, all, to this first post to stray from our regular topic of anime.  I don’t intend to wander off-topic often, but I will occasionally share other news.  And so:

  1. Cecile Corbel, known to anime fans for the soundtrack of the 2010 movie The Secret World of Arrietty, has just released a new album entitled Vagabonde.  Interested?  Check out her online store at: http://www.cecile-corbel.com/fr/boutique.html
  2.  Sapphire Solace is a Gothic rock/Electro band whose music puts me in mind of Evanescence, or even Claudia’s Ashes.  They are currently seeking crowdfunding through pledgemusic.com for their upcoming album Waiting to Breathe.  Click here to learn more and listen to sample tracks!  http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/sapphiresolace
  3.  Rachael Kilgour is preparing to release her new album, Rabbit in the Road.  I’ve already received a copy, and this is some strong stuff!  Finely crafted and poignant lyrics about pain, loss, and confronting others’ judgement are delivered in a richly emotive voice.  Visit: http://rachaelkilgour.com/home

Brave Witches Join the Battle!

Welcome, all, again.  If last viewing season was memorable for an unusually high number of series with distinctively well-drawn artwork, then this new season might be said to offer a sudden abundance of series focusing upon the paranormal or things magical, particularly upon magical girls and witches.  And so our focus this time will be upon Brave Witches, a continuation of the Strike Witches franchise, and one of two series this season about witches in World War II-era Europe (the other being: Izetta: The Last Witch).  I, meanwhile, am still waiting for a Strike Witches/Kancolle mash-up, but I already digress. . .(But just imagine the possibilities!)

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Brave Witches is set in 1944, when mankind has been battling the invading alien Neuroi for half-a-decade already, and follows the adventures of Hikari Karibuchi as she joins the 502nd Joint Fighter Wing.  While the 501st has been protecting Britannia from Neuroi takeover, the 502nd is on mainland Europe, which has suffered extensively from years of Neuroi attacks.  Now the Neuroi are creating a new nest over Europe, and the 502nd is humanity’s great hope against even worse suffering and despair.  These young witches utilize the same striker units introduced to viewers in Strike Witches, leg-encasing motors which drive propellers and provide thrust for flight.  It will be interesting to see if combat tactics differ between shows since the 501st is fighting a defensive battle based upon enemy interception, while the 502nd faces an already established enemy on shared ground.  I would expect more detailed strategy and more aggressive tactics from a group standing toe-to-toe with the enemy.  We’ll see.  Meanwhile, is Hikari really up to the task?

Hikari is a native of Sasebo, meaning that she hails from the Fusou (Japanese) Empire, as do a certain Yoshika Miyafuji and Mio Sakamoto (with whom returning fans will be familiar).  But Hikari’s magical powers aren’t yet very developed or strong, something quite embarrassing for the younger sister of the “Hero of Sasebo.”  Hikari’s sister Takami earned that title when, like Ajax defending the Greek ships at Troy, she single-handedly held the Neuroi at bay during the retreat from Libau (in Latvia).  Such is the example against which Hikari measures herself; who could help but fall short?

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Still, “Time and tide wait for no man.”  Raw, barely trained, and blatantly ignorant (and weren’t we all, fresh out of basic training?), Hikari finds herself shipping off to Europe with her sister.  This is her dream, and she revels in it!   Sadly, the reality of combat intrudes–but war is like that.  Personally, I rather expect this series to follow a similar story progression to that of Strike Witches, covering Hikari’s absorption into the camaraderie and challenges of military life.  The old questions obviously remain: why do witches lose magical abilities as they age?  Why are no male witches utilized?  And why, after years of combat, has no regulation uniform bottom been issued to the witches?  All of this, questions included, is familiar territory, yes, but why fix what’s not broken?  And a franchise that already spans anime, manga, light novels, and even video games probably doesn’t need much tweaking.  I tell you, I’m already onboard and waiting to see where this one goes!

[Parental Note:  This particular franchise has a long and storied history of blatant fan service.  To be fair, though, not much was present in episode 1 of this new show; things get cheekier in episode 2.]

[Readers’ Note:  Please visit my October, 2016 The Wandering Witch column on 918thefan.com to read my review of Izetta: The Last Witch.  Thanks!  http://918thefan.com/2016/the-wandering-witch-gets-left-for-last/]

 

 

Everything Old Is New Again–WWW.WAGNARIA!!

Welcome, all, again.  And this regular greeting of mine is especially appropriate for this review, since we are revisiting the familiar franchise of Wagnaria!!  But this new anime series is set in an entirely different location and introduces viewers to new staff with new situations.  Fear not, however, because these lovely people are every bit as dysfunctional as their predecessors, particularly when placed together.  I confess to wondering how this family restaurant chain stays in business. . .

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Our protagonist this time around is Daisuke Higashida, a high school student who seeks part-time work to help with expenses (mainly his own, initially) after his father’s business fails.  He attends a good high school with a college prep curriculum, and appears to be both serious and studious.  Quickly surmising that his co-workers are the biggest difficulty at his new job, Higashida quietly begins addressing himself to their various personalities.  His efforts meet likewise varied levels of success; still, he quickly establishes his own place within the staff pecking order.   It just looks a lot like the bottom rung.

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And what a crew he’s fallen in with!  (Take that, English Comp!)  Hana Miyakoshi is a fellow high school student who has worked her way to Floor Chief, managing the other servers and bullying the cooks and manager.  Sayuri Muranushi is a server who doesn’t believe in ghosts or the supernatural, but who is nonetheless the only one who can see certain of her customers.  Kisaki Kondou is a sarcastic and indolent college student who prefers talking to working, and smoking to talking.  Meanwhile, Shiho Kamakura is a pampered airhead of a girl from a wealthy family.  Her presence in Wagnaria seems linked to Yuuta Shindou, a male server whose father in deeply indebted to Kamakura’s father.  It’s just hard to tell if she’s there to pursue him or to torment him.  (Never mind, it’s both–but with added emphasis on the torment.)  Two cooks and a manager round out the nucleus of a growing cast, but it’s the floor staff–and occasionally their customers–who steal the show!

Wagnaria!! has built brand recognition and, indeed, its entire franchise upon quirkiness: of characters, of situations, even of concept.  The characters have changed this time, as has the setting, but the underlying theme of workplace camaraderie remains the same.  And it’s just a good feeling when viewers are able to settle in with a familiar concept–this series is every bit the warm, funny show the shared title has taught us to expect.  So show up for a little metaphorical comfort food–because heaven only knows if you’ll ever get your actual order around here!