Film Review: HOKUSAI MANGA (1981)


For those who have pre-knowledge of this film and are feeling something akin to outrage or pure curiosity, you can find my explanation/reasoning at the end (this whole work is going to be divided into sections, so you can find easily at the end of the article). That being established, HOKUSAI MANGA is not one of the best films you’ll see but it has one of the better performances you will see from a Japanese film and is an interesting film overall.

HOKUSAI MANGA is the story of Hokusai - the famous Japanese woodblock artist. It is not a strict biography now, for it does tell a story with a central theme and a study upon said theme. But this film is much like the 1984 film, AMADEUS. The film begins with Hokusai (going by his real name at the time), enjoying a bath along with friends who would later become great artists in their own right (like the novelist Bakin). Hokusai shows that he has an ambition - to become a great artist (and not just a woodblock artist at that). His work initially seen as crummy. With the subject of many of his works being women - both clothed and nude - no one sees any value in them. It is called just pornographic abroad and his daughter sees them as too "logical", hence boring. This is a tough pill to swallow due to the fact that he dare get disowned by his father (who was a mirror-cleaning shogunate) just to learn to paint.

It is only when he meets his muse (a woman named Onao) does he start painting for real. Many events happen which are indirectly caused by the muse, and she eventually leaves. But once one of his paintings is sold to a publishing company, Hokusai becomes famous, doing paintings of cranes on rice, painting on large dining room-sized canvases, and even drawing Mt. Fuji from 30 plus angles at different times of day. We skip to the latter part of his life where he and his friend, Bakin, are old men. It is durring this time that Hokusai learns how to do tasteful nudes with substance.

This is one of the 36 VIEWS OF FUJI, this one specificaly shown in the film.

HOKUSAI MANGA has a point within it. It is all about women. Mostly because women are men’s muses. So, upon closer observation, this film has to do with the muse-artist relationship. A muse is an important thing to the artist (no matter what medium). It is the muse which literally makes a work "inspired". It is something they can rely on. Persistence. In that reliance, there’s something (their work) which can keep their memory going for years after they have gone. There is a scene in the film in which before the writer Bakin becomes a widower, his passing wife finally allows him to become a writer. That is who he is meant to be. As the writer Harlan Ellison said, " Posterity is the only reason to do this." (Harlan was talking about writing, but writing is an art form just as much as painting or directing).

But, there is something interesting in the muse/artist relationship. It is the sexual side of things. Most of the time, especially with male artists, their muse is a female figure of some sort. That, mixed in with a message of what a tasteful nude is, is what this film is all about. As the film shows, those who aspire to draw tasteful nudes have quite a way to go. The film shows that at the beginning of his career, Hokusai did paint nudes but they were disregarded as pornography. It is only later down on in life in which Hokusai gets the perspective in which he could do tasteful nudes such as THE FISHERMAN’S WIFE.

That is a battle of the human intellectual adaptation versus the natural animalistic instincts. When you are young, you lack insight and the animalistic side of you is king. This is shown to great detail as Hokusai’s father, who was strongly attracted to his son’s muse, ended up hanging himself just because he wouldn’t be with the woman. The sexual want is just too much. But with time, things get clear. It is because of this that most of Hokusai’s life from his late thirties to his late eighties were ignored. A good artist has perspective, and he gained it. That perspective is to illustrate the desires of a woman. Not to be pornographic but to shed light on a world untouched. To explore the world of womanly desires was a new idea back in Elden Japan. Japan was largely a male-centered country with a male-centered culture, thus to put such interest and care into what a woman’s interest is quite the perspective. Not to mention that the study of this kind of emotion is what Hokusai needed because while his early work was too logical, work like THE FISHERMAN’S WIFE is just the opposite because it deals with the most illogical thing around - human emotion.

Sad thing is that younger people may often confuse the two, art and pornography. Having done THE FISHERMAN’S WIFE later on in life with a new woman who looked like Onao, Hokusai was old but his new model quite young. She became admiring of Hokusai’s odd artistic choices but she showed that she didn’t understand his work. At her last appearance in the film, the new model starts having sex with a man. Just regular sex. Hokusai walks in on it and when she asks if he is excited and wanted to paint her in the act, he declined. She didn’t understand it and goes off.

For all of that above, this film cannot be called pornographic. There is a literal art to it. There is less than 20 minutes of nudity within the whole film (which is an hour 58 minutes long). To call this film pornographic would be like calling Stanley Kubrick’s EYES WIDE SHUT pornographic.

Ken Ogata is, to Western audiences, best known for the 1980's Paul Schrader film based on another famous Japanese artist (one of the liturate field), MISHIMA.

As far as direction goes, the film’s direction by Kaneto Shindo (who also wrote the film) is nothing too spectacular for a Japanese film. It is notable though, particularly with this reviewer, that it was this film which finally made me realize why Japanese films linger with long takes of scenes with no camera movement. It makes it seem like you are watching a play. This is quite remarkable. Though the make up of the film isn’t anything that will make you think of Kabuki or Noh theatre (rather, the make up at the end is applied to the actors just to show a difference in age), it is an interesting perspective to put the audience in. It is stuff like this which helps makes scenes like a monologue by Ken Ogata (playing the elderly Hokusai) gain momentum by not only being potentially interpreted as a personal diary said aloud to himself, but also as a monologue he is saying to the audience directly. It is almost like a moment out of GOODFELLAS.

Now, this is an interesting piece to choose to review for a blog like this. Truth is, there is one shot that could be called tokusatsu. The particular scene which enacts the inspiration Hokusai gets to draw THE FISHERMAN’S WIFE is done via both a real life enactment and a showing of what is going on within Hokusai’s head. The two wire-clad Octopi props and such were done by a notable person who has worked within the realm of kaiju eiga before - and with this being a Shochiku film, it is only natural that the art direction and possible doing of special effects be done by Shigemori Shigeta - award winning art director for SPACE MONSTER GUILALA and THE LAST SAMURAI. It’s not the best scene (there is a wire visible in one shot) but it is an interesting look into the mind of the master artist. While the kaiju connection is being discussed, it is notable that one of Hokusai’s works was used at the end of a Godzilla movie, Banno’s GODZILLA VS. HEDORAH.

Bottom line, it is a well written film with pretty good directing with the strong point being Ken Ogata’s acting. For some, recognizing the renown actor may be easy, for me it was difficult being used to only seeing him play Miyamoto Musashi (which required a good bit of make-up) in MAKAI TENSHO. It is an interesting look at the life of an artist and a nice way to spend two hours. Just be prepared for laughable content (the octopus scene might look fake to some and due to Japan’s censorship laws in regards to nudity in film and art (which proclaims that genitalia is not allowed to go uncensored in any form of media) the strains in which the filmmakers try to cover up body parts might seem a little obvious if not desperate). This film is worthy of all the awards it won and was nominated for back in 1981.

Recognize this GODZILLA VS. HEDORAH fans?

For those interested in seeing the film IMDB has it avaliable legally via Hulu.


Those who wonder as to why I chose to review such a film on this site, you shall have your curiosity quenched. Going through youtube one night, I stumbled upon a clip of the octopus scene from the film posted. I was curious and once I saw the period piece setting and the fact there was a painter by the woman who had a octopus on her, I knew what it was right then and there (the things they teach you in 7th grade art class). Oddly enough, someone was going through my likes list and decided to flame bait myself. People assumed that I had liked the clip due to it being sexual in nature thus it was purely pornographic (though none of these individuals have seen the film), that I was not allowed to press the like button on such things (just because my channel’s content is that of which minors may look at), and that even if I liked the clip for it’s artistic merits, that was not the case for some claim they know me so well that it wasn’t the case.

Truth is, it wasn’t the case. I did like it for it’s artistic merits. It wasn’t pornographic, and in all reality just because the film is called EDO PORN in America doesn’t mean anything. It is a bad, inaccurate title for a Japanese film (and this isn’t the first time something like this has happened, anyone remember GODZILLA VS. THE THING or GODZILLA ON MONSTER ISLAND) that isn’t about porn (and someone tried to use the inaccurate title as something against me, going as far as calling me a dumb f***).

I hope this clears stuff up. I was in the right and this is a film I would prefer. Watch and don’t judge. And I don’t care if Children watch.


JG2KM Reaction to Criterion GODZILLA DVD

Criterion's DVD cover was met with critisism, but was generally approved of.

Recently, Criterion surprised all of us in the evening a couple of days ago when we found their official page for their release of the first Godzilla film, a film they leased out from Classic Media (who released their own 2 disc version of it). So, what do we make of this news? The news of what special features will be part of the set coupled with a release date which is very, very close by (January 2012)? Well, let’s see…

First, let’s go through the special features. Both versions of Godzilla are getting an audio commentary by author David Kalat. Kalat is one of the more known writers on the Godzilla film. His most notable work is that of A CRITICAL HISTORY AND FILMOGRAPHY OF TOHO’S GODZILLA SERIES (with the original version being the best, the updated version was not well received for it’s cutting back on information to make room for the Millennium series of Godzilla films). His work, while containing some factual information about the production of each film, the manifesto does try to center itself on the subtext, meanings, and interpretations of the films.

This isn’t the first time that Kalat has done a Godzilla commentary though. He was employed by Classic Media to do the audio commentary for GHIDORAH, THE THREE HEADED MONSTER. Reviews criticized him for going off topic (no matter how informational he may be) and making simple errors in the form of generalizations. But he did make an impression as being quite enthusiastic about his work, thus he is regarded by some as a favorite.

Luckily, we can see to an extent what he is going to talk about in the commentary by viewing his book. For those who do not own his book, refer to it here:

However, particularly when it comes down to the commentary for GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS, one cannot think that Kalat can out-do the Godziszewski/Ryfle commentary track. When the duo provided audio clips of interviews from people involved, there is next to no topping that unless he is allowed to borrow the audio clips for his own use.

Next, and this is easily the most important feature on the set, will be newly filmed interviews, particularly with effects technicians Yoshio Irie and Eizo Kaimai. This is most interesting, and one has to wonder about these individuals. When doing an IMDB search, we see that Eizo Kaimai was a person who had worked on Honda’s THE H-MAN while Yoshio Irie (unless there are two of them and IMDB doesn’t have a profile of an older Irie) is a fairly new guy, having worked on titles such as 2008’s ICHI... or so you would have thought! Thanks to Brett Homenick bringing this to my attention, turns out Irie is no stranger to interviews, including one which was done with some of the fore-fathers of the G-FAN/Kaiju Fan fanzines.


Next which caught my eye was the "New interview with Japanese-film critic Tadao Sato". This is a new name, at least to me anyway. According to Wikipedia, Tadao "is a prominent Japanese film critic and film theorist. Satō has published more than 30 books on film, and is one of the foremost scholars and historians addressing Japanese film, though little of his work has been translated for publication abroad." This is something which I am really interested in because - most for - the fact that the cultural barrier between America and Japan is such that there is a good bit more American audiences who are going to buy this title can learn. An interesting bit of which is a Japanese view of Godzilla which some claim was only around when GMK (2001) was made that Godzilla was a representation of souls lost in the Pacific theatre of WWII. However, writers like Norio Akasaka wrote that Godzilla was a, "representation of the spirits of soldiers who died in the South Pacific durring the Second World War… after coming from the South Pacific to destroy of the Ginza and the Diet building, Godzilla stops suddenly in front of the Imperial Palace, then turns his head right and heads back out to sea with this look of painful sadness on his face", and Akasaka would go on to compare Godzilla to a story by the famous Yukio Mishima (who Paul Schrader made a film about) which critique’s Japan’s moral after the world. More of this kind of material would be nice to hear, hopefully adding freshness to the usual "Godzilla is an allegory for the bomb" which long time fans may be all too used to.

You got William Tsutsui who works at a university in Texas... then you got Gred Pflugfelder who works at the New York-based Columbia University. Now, giving the set something which the British Film Institute product had which the Classic Media release didn’t have was a feature on the Fukuryu Maru AKA the Lucky Dragon No. 5. However, instead of recycling the BFI feature, Criterion decided to have Greg Pflugfelder(Director of the Donald Keene Center of Japanese Culture at Columbia University) do a feature titled THE UNLUCKIEST DRAGON (which sounds like a twisted version of a film children would watch) based on the Lucky Dragon No. 5 incident which was one of the three main inspirations for GODZILLA. He's notable for having done a Godzila exhibit back in 2004 in New York. Here is a link to his page: http://www.columbia.edu/cu/weai/faculty/pflugfelder.html

The last interesting thing is an essay done by J. Hoberman. A critic who works right now as a senior critic for THE VILLAGE VOICE, this BA and MFA-holding film critics might just be the most interesting person giving a kind of contribution as far as non-Asian contributors are concerned for Hoberman is 63 years old - he was eight years old when GKOTM was released into American theatres, 11 when GIGANTIS, THE FIRE MONSTER was released, so on, so forth. He might just have insight which is most interesting being older than Godzilla himself!

There are other special features on the set. Newly done subtitles which will hopefully give us the most accurate translation of the film since the legendary 1980’s bootleg tape, an interview with Akira Ifukube most likely ported from the R2 DVD set, and a mysterious featurette on the film’s photographic effects which I don’t know what to make of it right now (could be something newly produced or something which Criterion has loaned from Toho or maybe Classic Media?).

Can this be the definitive release of GODZILLA? When comparing it to the other releases, it might be film and special features wise. We’ll just have to wait and see.


Tomoo Hariguchi's Prop Collection

Many of us may see a picture of Toho's prop storage facility only to feel saddened that they are not keeping up with props, which seems weird thus the props are rotting and withering away and since they don't do anything with them, it is kind of a waste of space. But enter the lucky fan like Ed Godziszewski or the late owner of Monster Zero Information Site who might have a claw or a dorsal fin of a suit. Good, but those are only parts. To the rescue is some of the the special effects artists of kaiju eiga. Koichi Kawakita has his collection of props and such, but today, we are going to see through the lense of a camera owned by Japanophile Patrick Macias the prop collection of Tomoo Hariguchi. Some stuff will surprise you. Take a look!