Now at 83 years old, Ushio is still trying his luck at becoming a break out star. His marriage to now-62-year-old Noriko has been difficult at times, but it has helped Noriko become an artist in her own right.
Their film ‘Cutie and the Boxer’ is a love story, but it’s mostly a depiction of real life and the struggles that come crashing down when you’re trying to achieve your dreams.
It’s powerful, showing how promising artists can fall into poverty if sales aren’t a steady flow. At one point, Ushio flies to Japan to attempt to sell art that hopefully pays for their rent. They have an exhibition in New York, but life isn’t glamourous.
Filmmaker Zachary Heinzerling focused the film on their relationship and struggles because their issues are universal. In a statement, he said the colorful couple was relatable, adding “career disappointments, gender roles, marriage and aging all are issues we encounter in adulthood.”
The film will air on PBS's POV on Friday, Sept. 18 at 10 p.m. I spoke to Ushio and Noriko about being an artist in New York, working together and their current projects.
What are some of your favorite parts about working with your husband?
Noriko: In life, not only are we artists together, but we are partners and with that comes love and hate. Love and hate exists together.
Someone once asked me why we were married. I said because when my cats capture the mice in our building, I need him.
In this film, my favorite part was in the end when I’m going to punch him.
You’ve said that you don’t necessarily have as many friends and family as you do in Japan. What are some of the other challenges in being an artist in New York for you?
Noriko: One of the reasons why I have kept living here is because I cannot get out of here. To get out or move to another place is just too luxurious. We are too poor. Sometimes we don’t even have money to go to the airport. And part of having a studio is that it is not easy to move.
What are you guys working on right now?
Ushio: The same thing that I’ve been doing. I became very interested in American pop art and made over 100 pieces. Some of them are in London’s Tate Museum. I use Japanese traditional art and American pop art combined together to create a new culture.
Tell me more about ‘Cutie and the Boxer,’ the comics.
Noriko: My favorite artist is Vittore Carpaccio, a 15th century artist. I’ve made many works but when I found ‘Cutie,’ I could finally say that I am an artist now. It took more than 40 years.
I haven’t found a publisher for my comics, but I still continue the work with paintings and drawings. ‘Cutie’ evolved so much, now I’m doing postcards where one side has a picture of Cutie and the other side she has written something.
I had a small showing in Ottawa, Canada, for the ‘Cutie’ postcards and the next showing will be in October in Dallas. Ushio and I will have a two-artist exhibition. Ushio will be the featured artist at the Dallas Museum of Art.
Ushio: I will do a boxing painting. I’ll have boxing gloves, paint and five meters of canvas. The audience will watch me do the action painting, from right to left without ever going back. My concept is to forget everything and just punch away. I need the audience too. The audience gives me this unusual energy coming from my body when I feel like they are watching me, all serious with no jokes.
Why do you think art is so important to you?
Noriko: I say I’m not a Buddhist but art is my religion. Without it, I have nothing and I am nothing.
Do you feel like you have accomplished your dreams?
Noriko: I’m still working on it. When I found ‘Cutie,’ I became an artist; but if I don’t continue it, I’m not an artist anymore.