GALO: In one interview, you described how the Shinoharas “formed this perfect couple in a way, but for all the wrong reasons.” Can you explain this a little bit?

ZH: There’s something magical about their presence and how they fit together. Ushio has an uber-masculine way about him, with his motorcycles, he boxes, he’s rough with everything that he does, and she’s this opposite, precious character that takes time with everything, wears pigtails and is very feminine in a lot of ways. But they fit together in an odd way. There’s a co-dependency: his dependency on her because he wouldn’t be capable of a normal life without her to manage his art, cook for him, and keep his schedule and all these other things; for her, she’s dependent on him because he’s her artistic inspiration in a lot of ways and the reason she became an artist. I think her identity is tied up in him because she met him when she was 19 and he introduced her to this world she wanted to be a part of, and she’s stuck with him ever since. The fact that she stuck with him has created her identity or who she identifies herself as, in her art but also to others. You don’t necessarily think of dependency as love or necessarily the right reason if we’re judging right and wrong or analyzing their relationship from more of a psychoanalytical stance, but it works for them and they are happy together. They’ve come to a place of happiness. It’s a hard, bitter love in a lot of ways, but I do think there is love and she wouldn’t leave him and he would certainly never leave her. It’s hard to define that as love, but it’s a kind of love.

GALO: You decided to weave archival footage and Noriko’s Cutie illustrations into the film. Why did you decide to tell the story through those devices? Also, where’d the archival footage come from?

ZH: The home videos came from a friend of Ushio’s who’d attempted to make a documentary about Ushio in the early ’80s, but it was more of a home video project. Ushio’s loft was party central for all of these Japanese expats, and also for a lot of American artists; they’d come over and drink with him. I saw a section of this footage and asked him [if I could use it]. For some reason he saved all the original tapes and sent them to me. Also, Ushio and Noriko filmed themselves on all their vacations — Ushio would bring his camera and film trees and frogs and whatever nature was there. Occasionally he would film Noriko as well. Their house is littered with photos and tapes and it was a huge excavation process of finding everything and organizing it all. They documented themselves a tremendous amount and never organized it, so it was a big endeavor — over 500 hours of additional footage beyond what I’d shot to go through. At some points we had more of it in the film, but it became more powerful if we used it in select moments and moments where the transition from the contemporary to the past is seamless and said something when you juxtaposed the two. We wanted the film to really stay in the present and for the audience to be following them, but then to have these moments almost like memories or flashbacks.

With the Cutie animations you’re dipping into Noriko’s psyche really, because it’s how she views and reconstructs the past. But it’s also a bit of an archival footage in itself because it tells some of the story.

Similarly, with the home videos the level of intimacy you see is unlike any of the stuff I shot. It reminds you that there were these moments in their life when there was a younger love and a real desire that you don’t see very much today, and with Ushio you see some vulnerability when he’s not really acting.

GALO: What would you say was the most difficult part of the project?

ZH: Definitely the edit. I had this massive amount of material and had to construct the story and weigh the edits. Showing it to them was also really hard because I had spent all this time with them and they had some idea…

GALO: So you didn’t tell them from the beginning that you were making a film about them?

ZH: I told them I was making a film about them but they didn’t know what I would include. Ushio was really shocked to find out that the film was more about Noriko. I’d done interviews with all these artists, historians and friends in the interest of making more of an artist documentary about him, and didn’t end up using any of those. The level of privacy that would be exposed, you never know how someone is going to react. I knew that they trusted me because they let me in and knew how much I had. I thought, even if they didn’t like it, they would understand that it was my version of their relationship and respect it as art in the same way that they are creative people and they understand what it takes. I think that’s how Ushio sees the film — he respects the craft and the effort I put into the film, even if he doesn’t love the subject matter as much as he would a film about himself. And Noriko has always liked the film.

It’s more of their past than I think Ushio would want, but as a whole they’ve embraced the experience. And they want to promote their work, so I think this is all part of that.

GALO: This was your first feature documentary. Do you have anything else in the works or plans to make more documentaries in the future?

ZH: If I found the right subject, I would. I haven’t found that yet. I’m actually trying to write a narrative film, hoping that my next project will be a fictional film. I’m working on that now for sometime next year. I think the genre is less important to me; if I find a story, I ask what’s the best way to tell it — is it with people who are still alive or do we need to create fictional characters? It was never a documentary for me; they’re obviously living subjects that I’m filming but I was trying to tell this story. With the next project, the challenge for me, something I’m excited about, is taking it a step further and creating a story from script phase and having more creative license.

Featured image: Director Zachary Heinzerling. Photo Courtesy of: RADiUS-TWC.

Cincopa WordPress plugin