IMDB Score – 7.2
Rotten Tomato Score – 96%
Academy Award Nominee for Best Documentary
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Directed By – Zachary Heinzerling
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.
I am sick. I am sitting in bed trying to breath and constantly asking myself why I have to suffer like this every time the temperature changes. It’s my semi-annual hell hole and it’s also an excuse to watch some films lazily in my bed. My first film ended up being such a joy to watch that I don’t know if I’m going to continue my viewings so I don’t lose this feeling I have.
“Cutie and the Boxer” is a film about a married Japanese couple, Ushio and Noriko Shinohara, who are trying to make a living selling their art in New York City. They have been artists for decades and the film chronicles their artistic journey as well as the journey they take in their relationship.
Let me get this out of the way first. This is a gorgeously shot film. Zachary Heinzerling eloquently constructed this film by focusing on the intimate way that these two artists live their lives. Nothing is held back and we soon realize that holding nothing back is the entire nature of their relationship. It’s really as if Heinzerling isn’t in the room with them as they discuss the problems they have with each other with smiles instead of frowns. They are open books and Heinzerling was able to capture some real forms of the human heart and spirit while following the couple. The film also utilizes a fantastic score by Yasuaki Shimizu. Saxophones and Cellos routinely fill the scenes captured by the camera and add a light and peaceful atmosphere to the film. It’s one of those scores that kind of gets under your skin and makes what you’re watching more relaxing and content. That and I’m a sucker for anything with an oriental feel to it.
The art displayed in the film is pretty fantastic. Perhaps the most interesting art is the pieces that give Ushio his nickname, “The Boxer”, where he straps on boxing gloves filled with paint and punches a canvas from left to right. Did I mention that this man is 80 years old? It just goes to prove that there is something in the Japanese gene that makes them live forever and do amazing work while doing so. Ushio is also a gifted sculture, making make acid filled fantasies from cardboard, usually involving motorcycles. His wife, Noriko, is also a gifted artist and focused more on the art of drawing. Her “Cutie” series chronicles the early part of her relationship with her husband as they raise a child together, mostly while Ushio is piss drunk. This is where the open-ness of the film lies. Her work is literally a series of painting and drawings that highlight how difficult it was to be married to Ushio and standing next to her is that same man with a smile on his face. It’s one of those relationships where you know they’ll stick together through everything due to them being two individual souls spending their own lives together instead of trying to make a single life from two people. I always thought those kind of relationships were the best at making it all the way.
The film also focuses on what it’s like for two people who happen to be artists to share a life together in a business sense. They are both vying for a chance to have their work shown at galleries. Ushio is the more famous artist and Noriko has usually helped the man out and neglected her own work. She was also forced to bear most of the responsibility of raising their child and actually had to give up painting for a long time. She is now able to fully focus on her own artwork and it was great watching her try to succeed. I was rooting for her like I knew her.
The whole film was just magical. It was like watching “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” but instead of fish the art is on a canvas. It may not have been the best documentary in the Academy Awards but it is a completely unique film that will make even the least artistic person want to grab a paint brush. Oh and the montage during the credits is one of the best things I’ve seen in a while. Highly recommended.
Suggested Viewing – Exit Through the Gift Shop, Wasteland, Jiro Dreams of Sushi