Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. USA, 2013. Little Magic Films, Cine Mosaic, Ex Lion Tamer. Screenplay by Zachary Heinzerling. Cinematography by Zachary Heinzerling. Produced by Patrick Burns, Lydia Dean Pilcher, Zachary Heinzerling, Sierra Pettengill. Music by Yasuaki Shimizu. Film Editing by David Teague. Academy Awards 2013.
Ushio Shinohara has enjoyed decades as a well respected painter and sculptor in New York, his pursuits gaining him fame though not much fortune. His wife Noriko, twenty years his junior, has been married to him for forty years ever since coming to New York as an art student and falling under his powerful sway. The present day finds the two of them living happily in a state of perpetual friction, the concerns of paying bills and battling egos making for a lively and loving relationship that has improved with his leaving behind his alcoholic tendencies and her making peace with the compromises of her life. Like many an artists’ wife before her, Noriko put aside her own painting and sublimated her work into life as Shinohara’s partner and mother to their son; more recently, her drawings of characters “Cutie” and “Bullie” present a nearly autobiographical narrative of her life with this tidal force of a man she loves as much as she resents (film footage of past drunken parties reveals plenty of reasons for both). The film animates her drawings, the scenes they show providing the narrative information that would normally be given to us by talking heads. The result is an elegantly filmed documentary by Zachary Heinzerling that provides the blistering beauty of much of both the Shinoharas’ work as well as their ugly realities, including their son’s inherited alcoholism and the struggle to remain financially afloat despite Ushio’s established name. The stars are not shy about presenting either their more tender or difficult moments, addended by the colourful personalities of the art world with whom they interact (including a very memorable Alexandra Munroe on a mission to get Shinohara into the Guggenheim Museum, made out here to be something of a symbol of art world oppression but, by all news accounts since the film came out, proven to be quite otherwise).