An LnD guest review by Joanna K. Dane.
— Cutie and the Boxer, a documentary now on Netflix.
In a New York City studio, an 80 year old artist does his work. Ushio Shinohara puts on swimming goggles and boxing gloves adorned with sponges and produces another “action painting,” dipping the sponges in a bucket of black paint and boxing at a giant canvas while his wife, Noriko, more than 20 years his younger, takes pictures.
She helps him weave cardboard and attach it to a giant sculpture he is trying to finish and hoping to soon sell. “You can tell, she doesn’t really want to help,” Ushio says. “She is just an assistant. The average one has to support the genius.”
But when we finally see Noriko, quiet and alone, bent over a drawing, we learn a different story through the character of Cutie with her twin braids identical to Noriko’s. “I’m always naked,” says Cutie, “because I am poor.” She comes to New York as an eager and ambitious young art student. Cutie meets Bullie at a gallery and is awed by his unusual art. He gives her studio space for her own work. Six months later she is pregnant with their son.
Filmmaker Zachary Heinzerling creates an intimate portrait of this complex marriage, both supportive and competitive, through close-up shots of the artists’ daily lives intermixed with animations of Noriko’s drawings. “Love is ROARRR!” Cutie says, attacking Bullie.
When the gallery owner who is going to host Ushio’s show comes to the studio to see his work, Noriko is prepared and quietly asks if he would like to see her drawings. He is impressed and invites her to be a part of the show. When Ushio sees the show catalog, he can’t believe it, that it opens talking about famous artist couples. “What the hell?” he says laughing. “That’s crazy!”
When Ushio is gone, Noriko feels calm and quiet. But when he comes home, she runs to greet him. She has compromised her art for him. And yet, she knows it is her struggles with him from which her art has grown.
Set to a beautiful soundscape by Yasuaki Shimizu, this delightfully contemplative film shows us the difficulties of love and ambition and asks us to take a closer look at the compromises we all inevitably make.