Cutie and the Boxer

By Jennifer Mulligan

Mailed on February 18, 2014

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Dear Noriko Shinohara

Dear Noriko,

You're a brave woman, being an artist married to another artist for so long. Your husband, Ushio - who we come to know as Bullie in the animated "art brought to life" segments of the documentary Cutie and The Boxer - seems like he's been a bit of a handful the past thirty-nine years or so.

I think you're aware that maybe you should have found someone a little more responsible than a temperamental avant-garde artist, and now recovered alcoholic, as your life partner. But I have to commend you. Many people would not have put up with his ways for so long--especially considering his attitude towards artistic relationships that dictates "the average one has to support the genius." When you showed up, he knew he needed someone like you to keep him afloat. That's why he asked you to stay. That's why you've stayed. And that's why you fell in love with him.

Wait. Maybe he is a genius.

Most artists are. Or at least that's how they're perceived in the real world. You can see it in the way you're both treated by gallery owners and art buyers. They want to be a part of your magic and to put it on display. Artistry needs an entourage, after all. People to do their bidding, pay the bills, do the paperwork and shit jobs, love them and their messiness, all so the artist can submerge themselves in their work. It's all part of the charm.

As the documentary unfolds, however, I sense that you've grown wiser. You've become a woman who stands beside Ushio rather than behind him; a woman who challenges him, and one who makes her own voice heard. You say it yourself: "Cutie is very good at taming Bullie." You push him because you know he's worth it. But you're also realistic. You know Ushio will only make an effort when it's absolutely required. And when he does make an effort, in domestic matters, his approach is like his art--fast and furious. Then you critique him, he takes it in, and he bides his time before being domestic again. That's the process of your relationship.

There is a sweetness to your life too. Most marriages don't last forty years. It takes your endurance, you point out, to make this life work. There's a competitive edge between the two of you, but with Ushio's advanced age, he seems to be mellowing, at least when it comes to sharing the spotlight with you. And your art, which has evolved over the years of your marriage, is a reflection of the life the two of you built together. And his life has also been forever altered by having you in it with him. He knows that, even though he doesn't always feel the need to tell you.

If the distance between the opening and closing credits is any indication, it took you a long time to move from being an assistant and witness to Ushio's life to claim an active role, as someone willing to throw your own punches. All those years of struggle could not have been easy, and you admit the only reason you'd do it all over again is for your art. It's always easier to look back and justify your actions once the dust has settled, but I understand what you mean. You wouldn't be where you are, and your art exhibit Cutie and The Bullie wouldn't exist, without the years of unpaid bills, the leaky roof, and the dirty diapers behind you. You've survived it all and lived to make art about it because like you say, "Love is a roar."

I'm not sure where your journey will end, but I'm sure that your art will continue to evolve and change as the years go by. The impetus may come from a different place once Ushio is gone, and you may find you have to rethink your words: "But it won't be true if it has a happy ending."

I, for one, would be interested to find out.

Thank you for having such an open life, and for allowing me to have a glimpse of it.



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