CUTIE AND THE BOXER // “Cutie And The Boxer” is the story of the artistic couple, Noriko and Ushio Shinohara, living in their Manhattan flat attempting to make ends meet through their art. Having moved from Japan to the United States, Ushio found slight stardom from his transition into the New York art scene. His sculptures made from recycled cardboard and his paintings made from his boxing with a canvas made him someone to watch. In 1969, Ushio met Noriko and 40 years later, they’re still married. However, Noriko seems to have regrets, having dealt with Ushio’s alcoholism and living in his professional shadow, being an aspiring artist herself. The documentary follows the couple in their everyday life, eating dinner with their son at their home, arguing on an elevator on the way to their studio, and painting alongside one another, supporting each others work along the way. While Ushio takes out his aggressions with boxing gloves and paint on canvas, Noriko finds solace in her passive aggressive series of paintings featuring a naked woman named Cutie and an abusive, alcoholic husband named Bullie.
My favorite part of the film is the slow motion paint-ladened boxing match between the couple at the end of the film. There’s something so poetic about this sequence and really ties the film together, grounding it in the beauty and messiness of art. Acclaimed at last year’s Sundance and recognized as a nominee at the 86th Academy Awards, “Cutie And The Boxer” sets out to present something unique by way of the couple’s art but their personal struggles end up front and center. At a short 82 minutes long and designed as more of a character study, this couple and their squabbles are tolerable in small doses. You wonder why the couple is still together, but then you realize a universal truth about relationships and the struggles of human nature and monogamy, no matter how much you love someone, you are never going to get along with them all the time. This is summed up by an innocent conversation between the two regarding their pseudo-characters in Noriko’s paintings: “Cutie hates Bullie?” “No, Cutie loves Bullie so much.”
[Directed by Zachary Heinzerling] [R] [82 min] [16 August 2013]