Just about a week ago, in anticipation of the Blu-ray release of Cutie and the Boxer, I had the pleasure of interviewing director Zachary Heinzerling and artists Noriko and Ushio Shinohara, the subjects of the documentary. I had a few questions about the filmmaking process, and about the current work of the Shinoharas, and they graciously took a few minutes to answer.
I should note that some familiarity with the movie and with the artists will be necessary for this article to be effective. My review can be accessed at http://www.hometheat...ecommended-r508.
I asked Zachary about how he was able to make the movie and get as much footage of Ushio and Noriko simply living their lives in their loft space without the presence of the camera crew disrupting those lives. He told me that there really would only be one or two people in the space with the Shinoharas at any time. Most of the time it was just him. Some of the time, he was joined by producer Patrick Burns, who would handle a second camera. I asked how the Shinoharas dealt with his presence in their private living space, and he answered that they simply got used to him being there over time. Given that he was shooting material over a long period of time, it makes sense that after a while, he became a little less noticeable.
I asked Zachary if he spoke Japanese, but he does not. Instead, he would simply pick up on the tone of what Ushio and Noriko were saying to each other, if it was not in English – and most of the time, it was not. He would then take the footage to a translator to find out what they had been saying to each other – the results of which are included in the subtitles shown in the movie.
I asked about the slow-motion underwater footage of Ushio swimming laps, wondering how he got the shots and further, how he did so without getting in Ushio’s way. Zachary told me he did this by taking a 5D camera and putting it in a waterproof bag. He then jumped into the pool and held his breath for the amount of time it would take to get a shot of Ushio swimming by. Ushio added that he simply didn’t notice Zachary or the camera, as he was focused on his swimming.
I asked about the slow-motion boxing sequence seen in the end credits and the promotional materials. I had a feeling this must have been done at the same time as the “Action is Art” study piece in the Blu-ray’s special features. Zachary confirmed this, saying that they had arranged to shoot the study piece of Ushio creating a boxing painting on plexiglass in front of the camera. This went very quickly, and they found themselves with extra time on the day, more open memory on the card, and two willing participants. This led to the slow-motion montage, with both Ushio and Noriko wearing the gloves, and with Noriko boxing and painting a color collage onto Ushio.
I noted the inclusion of the earlier documentary materials. Zachary said they had found a lot of material, including some Japanese videos on Ushio. He said that Rod McCall was very helpful in giving them permission to use his documentary footage from the early 70s.
I asked regarding the music – particularly the closing Bach prelude as delivered by saxophone. Zachary had kind words for composer Yasuaki Shimizu, who is known for reinterpreting classical pieces via instruments like the sax.
I asked Noriko about “Cutie and Bullie”, particularly wondering how far along she was with the project when the documentary began, as well as where it currently stands. Noriko said she started the work in 2006. The characters evolved into the comic strip version by 2007. Zachary Heinzerling came around by 2009, and they shot material over a year and a half while she did further work between 2009 and 2010. At this time, Noriko says she has completed the initial version of “Cutie and Bullie” as a comic strip story. She is now moving on to the idea of making an animated edition of the strips, in a similar manner to the motion comics seen in the documentary. As of 2014, this is still in the early stages. From what she said, it would seem that Zachary managed to capture the moments where her work really blossomed.
I asked both Noriko and Ushio about the situation from the documentary where they were entertaining an offer from the Guggenheim to acquire one of Ushio’s boxing paintings. Noriko explained that this is still in process, and may take several more years before it finally happens. She gave an example of a sale they made to a gallery in Osaka in 1991 that took 9 years to be completed.
Finally, I asked Ushio about his artwork and how it has evolved since the documentary captured him at work. He told me he is continuing to find a new style. Currently, he is working on what he described as “a bloody piece on Samurai swordplay”.
With that, our conversation was concluded. Given how much ground we were able to cover, I’m thankful to all three of them for their time and patience.