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Katsushika O-Ei - The Real Miss Hokusai

Date: 2016 February 05 15:54

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Production I.G's latest cinematic masterpiece Miss Hokusai has just hit cinema screens in the UK. We've seen it and recommend you do too. Although a lot is know about the master himself, we were curious to know more about the real life Miss Hokusai. We started to research her history, then remembered we know experts in Japanese woodblock prints! The Japanese Gallery who sell Japanese woodblock prints, antiques and even anime cels, they would already know a lot about Hokusai and his artistic daughter. We asked them what tell us all about the real O-Ei.

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Katsushika O-Ei – Miss Hokusai

Katsushika Hokusai is one of the most famous artists in Japanese History, celebrated for his prints such as the ‘The Great Wave off Kanagawa’. Lesser known, however, is his daughter Katsushika O-Ei, who has recently been popularised in the Anime Film adaption of the 80’s Manga Sarusuberi, or ‘Miss Hokusai’.

Fuji Dragon
Nihon Bashi

The daughter from Hokusai’s second marriage, Katsushika Sakae, otherwise known as O-Ei, is one of the few recognised female artists of the Edo period, a profession which was overwhelmingly male at this time. Very little is known for certain about O-Ei, with little information left about her – as an artist only at most ten works that have been concretely attributed to her by scholars.

Her life story is quite mysterious, even her attributed artworks are not marked with a date, but she is believed to have been born around 1800. She had a brother and a sister, Sakijuro and Onao, in addition to a half-brother and two half-sisters from Hokusai’s previous marriage.

She clearly inherited her father’s artistic talent, becoming an accomplished painter and print maker in her own right. Her most striking images contain stark contrasts in lighting, and excelled at portraits of beautiful women. However the majority of her artistic work is believed to be in collaboration with her father and teacher, Hokusai. It is likely that she was in charge of ghosting many of her father’s own works and of colouring some of his shunga (erotic prints) - In some of Hokusai’s communication with his publishers it appeared that they were aware that he and his daughter were working as a team, including having the option to choose who would complete the work, some even requesting O-Ei to work on them specifically. In the end, all the works were signed by Hokusai however, simply because this would increase the works value and in the end printmaking was a business venture. The result is that any number of Hokusai’s works could have in fact been made by O-Ei, and explains the apparently lack of works produced by an otherwise talented artist.

Further adding to the theory that O-Ei collaborated with her father is the apparent story behind her peculiar name, which she derived from Oi(おい), which translates as ‘hey you!’, which she took as part of her artists name presumably as a humorous jab at her father’s working style.

In addition to absorbing her father’s creative talent, she also apparently took on Hokusai’s noted stubbornness and slovenliness. When the two were working they simply spent all day drawing, never stopping to cook or clean. One of the rare images that exist showing Hokusai and O-Ei together shows Hokusai working on the floor underneath a heated blanket (Kotatsu) surrounded by his tools and paper, offering us a small glimpse into this chaotic lifestyle. This bled into O-Ei’s personal life, she married once to a painter named Minamizawa Tomei, however this did not last and once the marriage ended she moved back to working with her father. The marriage apparently came to end when O-Ei mocked and laughed at her husband’s inferior artistic skills.

Ryogoku Bridge
Hokusai Print

After the failure of her marriage O-Ei moved back in to stay with and work with her father until the end of his life. Following Hokusai’s death, O-Ei is said to have become reclusive, severing ties with her family, and her students. As mysterious as the rest of life, little is known about the end of her life, apparently travelling eking out a living selling her artworks, with the date of her death being estimated to be sometime in 1857.

Hokusai Print


Otaku News would like to thank the experts at The Japanese Gallery for researching and writing this article.

Miss Hokusai opens on Friday 5th February 2016 as part of the Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme 2016. The JFTFP website lists all the venues showing the film. We suggest you catch it on the big screen while you can to enjoy it at it's best.

If you haven't already, don't forget to read our review of Miss Hokusai.

If you can't catch it in the cinema Miss Hokusai will be released on 31st March 2016 on DVD, Blu-ray and Collector's Edition Blu-ray by Anime Limited.

Source: Otaku News
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