Greetings again from the darkness. This finishes off my viewing of the five Oscar nominated documentary features. Filmmaker Zachary Heinzerling starts us with the 80th birthday of Ushio Shinohara. His wife Noriko has provided individual serving cakes and his has a number 3 candle on it. The candle has no significance other than they “don’t have 80 candles“. The rest of the movie is about what this couple does and does not have.
Ushio has had quite a career as an artist, starting with his Neo-Dadaism movement in Japan and carrying over to his popularity in New York City (he moved there in 1969) with his sculptures made from discarded items and his “boxing” paintings, of which we get to see the in-action video. It’s no secret that Ushio and Noriko are struggling financially … they discuss past due rent and utilities. We then learn that Ushio had once been quite popular and influential in the art world. His work has been displayed at many of the most famous museums and galleries, and Andy Warhol’s pop art was inspired by Ushio’s work.
But this story is about much more than the roller coaster ride of an artist. It’s even more about a 40 year marriage/relationship/partnership and the accompanying frustrations of one artist living in the shadow of another. We often sense the resentment coming from Noriko as she fills us in on her perspective, and we witness firsthand the challenges of living with Ushio. Neither of these people are especially likable, but afterall, they are artists! Home movies take us back to the early years (the 1970’s) and the destructive force of Ushio’s alcoholism and ego. When Noriko offered her assistance to the older (by 22 years) artist and then soon became pregnant, her passion for art was shelved. All these years later, her frustrations come pouring out through a mostly autobiographical story book illustration of Cutie (Noriko) and Bullie (Ushio).
We only get brief glimpses of their son Alex, but enough to see that he is also a struggling artist, and regrettably, also an alcoholic. Maybe the single biggest moment occurs when Ushio utters “the average one should support the genius“. In other words, Noriko is correct when she accuses him of viewing her as a “free assistant” and a “free chef“. So while Ushio says “art is messy“, it’s also obvious that life is every bit as messy, and that art and life offer no separation for this couple.
watch the trailer: