Movie Review ~ Cutie and the Boxer

The Facts

Synopsis: 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.

Stars: Ushio Shinohara, Noriko Shinohara

Director: Zachary Heinzerling

Rated: R

Running Length: 82 minutes

TMMM Score: (5.5/10)

Review:  At 82 minutes, Cutie and the Boxer feels like it barely scratches the surface of the symbiotic relationship between visual artists Ushio & Noriko Shinohara as it chronicles their life over the past 40 years.  On the other hand, for these 82 minutes the audience is tossed right into the simmering frying pan of two people that have achieved a unique rhythm allowing them to express themselves in their individual way.

I’m not sure I would have given the film its Oscar nomination for Best Documentary because I don’t feel it’s meaty enough to accomplish its goal.  Though I wasn’t enamored of the film as a whole, in part due to a general awkwardness in the way that director Zachary Heinzerling has assembled it, there were several dynamite chapters of this story that helped me stick with it.

Strangely, the film seems to find its shape when it’s not focused solely on Ushio and Noriko but instead when it steps back and allows others in.  When a curator from the Guggenheim stops by the Shinohara’s studio to watch Ushio work and look at options for a proposed exhibition of his art, there’s a fascinating exchange of ideas where each party tries to position themselves to get their way.  It made me more interested in seeing where the curator was going next rather than staying with the Shinohara’s as they roll up the canvases and turn out the lights.

Even more interesting is how the film captures Noriko’s desire to do something with her own art.  Drawing cartoons featuring the naked beauty of Cutie (a pig-tailed stand-in for Noriko), Noriko helps illustrate her inner feelings of wanting to be noticed and also provides Heinzerling a good way to help tell the story of how the two artists met in NYC four decades ago.

We also meet the Shinohara’s son that looks to be following in his father’s alcoholic ways but either the filmmaker couldn’t get more material on the young adult or out of respect for his subjects he kept that part of the story at a distance…either way it feels like self-editing that weakens his overall narrative.  You just feel like there’s an elephant in the room that no one is speaking of…though it feels like Noriko had something to say.

Art is subjective and I’m not sure I’d be a fan of either of the Shinohara’s work…but I think a better film is waiting to be made out of their story.

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