Cutie and the Boxer
This candid New York love story explores the chaotic 40-year marriage of famed boxing painter Ushio Shinohara and his wife, Noriko. Anxious to shed her role as her overbearing husband's assistant, Noriko finds an identity of her own.
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★★★½ review by Adam Cook on Letterboxd
Well this isn’t what I was expecting. I had wrongly assumed Cutie and the Boxer would be a documentary about a 40-year love story between two ageing artists in New York. Instead it was a film filled with bitterness and resentment as the eponymous Cutie experiences a life of frustration as she lives in the shadow of her alcoholic and poor husband.
Zachary Heinzerling’s candid documentary explores the frequently difficult relationship between action painter and sculptor, Ushio Shinohara (the Boxer), and his wife, Noriko (Cutie). Now in their twilight years the pair struggle to make a living via Ushio’s art. Achieving success in his early career the boxing painter is now finds his work harder to sell. Noriko, having supported her husband at the expense of her own art, now finally emerges from his shadow.
Despite the years together there is only fleeting glimpses of a loving relationship. Instead the imbalanced pairing has resulted in years of bitterness which is reflected in Noriko’s autobiographical artwork which documents their troubled relationship and Ushio’s alcoholism. Art is both their prison and release, it is the thing that drew them together and defined them but the financial pressures has also caused years of personal damage.
Featuring personal home videos the film isn’t afraid to explore the abrasive sides of Ushio’s personality. Although it doesn’t dwell on the impact it had on their now adult son (who battles with alcoholism himself) it is clear this creative environment was frequently toxic for the whole family.
Whilst the film may lack the aggressive energy of Ushio’s artwork (it’s a very conventionally structured documentary) its intimate honesty makes it refreshing.
★★★★½ review by Steven Sheehan on Letterboxd
As another summer is frozen into our minds assisted by the coming winter chills, it marks yet another year of two hour plus padded-out blockbusters that will fade away with little to remember. Super improved, more expensive and extra large, these films feel like a TV commercial selling you a product you had no intention of purchasing but the constant repetitive barrage subdued us into submission. So it's a bit of a joke to believe you could you possibly squeeze something worthwhile into a puny 82 minutes, right? Zachary Heinzerling, director of Cutie and the Boxer, offers the perfect counter argument.
He has documented a complicated, fascinating study on marriage, love, old age, parenthood, artistic struggle and personal evolution. Focusing his lens on Ushio and Noriko Shinohara, an artistic Japanese couple living in New York, he has produced one of the most unique documentaries of 2013.
Ushio is a celebrated sculpture/painter who has made a name for himself in the artworld through his individual style of punching his paint onto the canvas. His work comprises of abstract splurges intending to capture the energy and freedom of his expression in that moment. The ideal and philosophy behind his creative endeavour has huge artistic merit. The main obstacle he has faced for a number of decades is consistently making money from his art. Yet he has sacrificed his life - along with those around him - in the pursuit of creative expression.
The couple live in a compact apartment where water drips from the floor above into their bedroom. They are still living month-to-month, worried about paying the outstanding rent and utility bills to keep a roof over their head. The type of thing young, struggling artists put themselves through for the sake of their art. Not what you would expect from a couple in their later years.
But as usual there is far more than meets the eye. We learn about their marital history through Noriko's own artistic expression, a hand-drawn story about Cutie (Noriko) and Bullie (Ushio). As she sits alone in her corner studio creating new chapters, Heinzerling takes a flight of fancy to tell the story of their relationship from the moment they met, bringing to life Noriko's drawings from her pad.
She has come out the other side of Ushio's battle with alcohol, now intent on living out her dreams. Their son Alex has also suffered tremendously due to the complex nature of their relationship, now battling with the same addiction himself. We see home recordings of their marriage through the years and it becomes clear that without Noriko's commitment toward the marriage, it would have fallen apart many years before.
It is probably due to her own creative soul that she has retained a sense of understanding about her erratic husband. Noriko is far more vocal in the rebirth of her life, wise and confident enough now to remind her spouse that without the solid base she has faithfully built over the years, he would have died inside the bottle. In many ways, it passes on a message to males everywhere. Whilst we are indulged in our escapes and fantasies by those closest to us, allowing us to believe it is us who shapes the future, when we take a step back, the reality truly is somewhat different.
★★★½ review by Rod Sedgwick on Letterboxd
''You see... We are the ones suffering the most from art...''
Noriko and Ushio Shinohara have been married 40 years, live in New York as struggling artists, and in Cutie and the Boxer, their idiosyncratic routine is on full display. But there is a change in the air when Noriko the ever subservient wife decides she is tired of living in her husbands shadow and begins to exhibit her own artistic expressions. The thrust of this observation is a microcosmic display of human relationships; the love and devotion of a wife who dutifully serves but dies a little inside everyday, the husband that selfishly devotes himself to his creative process as if it were the complete essence of life itself, and yet despite this obvious imbalance, there is a bond of love that cannot be undone despite the continuous fraying. The story of this couple is told partly through fly on the wall observation, partly through home video footage and partly through the art of Noriko's art as she exorcises her demons as an unravelling comic book-like display. Noriko invokes pathos on the audience both in her loving patience, her painted regrets and the discovery of her own identity as it emerges from the shadow of her husbands fame and the tribulations of his former alcoholism (which has rubbed off on their son) - And herein lies the heart of the film. If Zachary Heinzerling film falters at all, it is in its short-sighted scope, offering us some shifting dynamics and tensions in its final act but ending our experience way too soon to be completely satisfied with the journey we have undertaken with this unique couple.
★★★½ review by Mr. DuLac on Letterboxd
Cutie hates Bullie?
I was expecting a charming documentary about a charismatic and outrageous couple, but ended up with one of the most honest looks at long term relationships I've ever seen. Sweet and painful all at once. Maybe I'm just a pessimist, but I believe that there are probably more 30-40 year relationships like this one then not.
The couple's very existence is solely dependent on one's sacrifice throughout their lives while the other acts obliviously selfish and takes more from their lives together then they give. To an outsider the relationship is beyond comprehension like the one of Cutie and Bullie, but I think they both actually love each other, it's just often times love makes little to no sense. Director Zachary Heinzerling does a great job of presenting us more with their relationship then their story as a piece of art just like the lives they lead.
★★★½ review by davidehrlich on Letterboxd
definitely could have used some more meat on them there bones (it clocks in at 82 minutes and just shy of greatness), this well-observed documentary on the amazing marriage between two ex-pat Japanese artists living in DUMBO is a resonant portrait of the exchange between art and life, and how a work's true value is never measured on the open market. ...even though i now want to buy a Shinohara boxer painting. or maybe i just want to be able to *afford* a Shinohara painting. or have the kind of apartment that could display it properly. or...
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