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My full review:
I have come to a stage in life where I sometimes forget how old I am. I find that when I think about my age I have to stop a second and recheck my calculations. I'm pretty good at head math and remembering numbers but I find this one doesn't quite stick.
I had an opportunity to attend the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and see Cutie and the Boxer, a documentary film by Zachary Heinzerling about Ushio and Noriko Shinohara, an aging Japanese married couple - both artists - living in New York City. As I've reflected on the film one of the most prominent thoughts that surfaces is age.
Age is perhaps our most defining physical characteristic. Maybe even more than race. And just like race and ethnicity, the physical cues that point to age can be misleading. It's easy to judge someone based on how old we think they are. We look at someone and we can make a guess. As we get older some people define themselves less by their age and focus more on the way they feel. Maybe that's why I can't remember my age that well. That or I'm just getting older. In Cutie and the Boxer we see first an older couple, and then throughout the film we see more of who they really are and how they see themselves.
Zachary Heinzerling's documentary Cutie and the Boxer is not a film primarily about age, although it invokes thoughts about aging. It's a film about the relationship between a husband and a wife and the sacrifices it takes to dedicate your life to someone else. Back when they first met, Ushio was already a prominent avant garde artist, having made an impact in Japan and rubbing shoulders with people like Andy Warhol in New York. He was most famous for his boxing paintings. To create these pieces of art Ushio dresses himself up very much like a boxer, including strapping on boxing gloves with sponges dipped in paint. He then energetically punches a large canvas as he moves from right to left. The experience of creating these paintings, which takes only a couple of minutes, epitomizes who Ushio is and how he sees himself as an artist. He appreciates characteristics like power, energy, spontaneity, and movement. Also famous for his motorcycle and dinosaur sculptures, he likes to name his exhibits with words like "Vroom!!" and "Roaarrr!"
According to her own story, Noriko was a young and eager artist fresh off the boat. She met Ushio, over 20 years her senior, and quickly entwined her life with his, giving up her own aspirations as an artist in the process. Jump forward after a child and 39 years of marriage and we them first as any other couple, with their quirks and recurring arguments. We quickly realize that Noriko set a precedence very early on in their relationship by making significant sacrifices in her lifestyle to accommodate Ushio and his needs. Now, after four decades together, she's undergoing a retrospective of her life and breaking out as the artist she always meant to be. Ushio's career seems to be gaining new momentum as well.
The film follows from there, laying out small but defining interactions between Ushio and Noriko over a two-year period. Beautifully filmed and beautifully portrayed, it splices in principal photography, archive footage covering multiple periods of their life, and the fantastical world of each of their art - especially the animation of Cutie's world. The animation is based on Noriko's comic about Cutie and the Bullie, her caricatured interpretation of herself and Ushio.
During the Q&A the director was asked why he decided to call the film Cutie and the Boxer when Noriko's comic named them Cutie and the Bullie. He answered that it just sounded better to him. I think the better answer - which he probably could've answered - is that it reflects the identity each of the characters would give themselves, even though neither is completely accurate. It's how they see their idealized selves. Noriko envisions herself as Cutie, the independent female artist able to overcome and tame her love-needy but headstrong husband. Ushio sees himself as the prize fighter and artistic genius of the family, his boxing paintings as a symbol of his power and art and therefore his dominance in their relationship. The reality of how each of these identities has manifested over the years is the result we see on the screen.
It's true that at first glance the film can seem to portray Ushio as uncaring, prideful, and jealous. It's an example of one of those relationships where the woman, due to the man's negligence and denial, has to take over the practical functioning of the family. But Heinzerling also hinted at something that the movie subtly tells you as you watch: that Ushio is a good and dedicated man and that he and Noriko have come to an unspoken arrangement. Ushio has a vibrant and open personality and is honest, but his love is need-based. And, although she has struggled with it for their 40+ years together, Noriko is OK with that. She might even be willing to do it all again.
This is a stunning film for several reasons: Foremost, it is a convincingly honest portrayal of the life of two artists. I cannot recall a film that got the life of an artist rightwithout an agenda, without false sentiment, without noticeable dishonesty. As a writer I felt I fully understood what Heinzerling managed to convey about the Shinoharas' personal visions without his having to resort to the conventional format of most documentaries. Second, the film is a totally engrossing portrait of a complicated relationship. Unlike most films about famous people, there is no narration here telling us what to think of Ushio and Noriko. They speak for themselves. They reveal themselves, for better and occasionally for worse. I usually resist films that are charming but this one has charm that is utterly irresistible. Third, the film casts light on the kind of work these artists do and have done. Fourth, we get to see the artists when they are not creating; that is, we get to know a little more about their inner lives and their external activities. Fifth, the artists themselves are utterly compelling personalities.
My wife and I have sat through countless biopics about famous artists,
and after virtually every one we have the same thought: the movie would
have been so much more interesting if it had focused on the artist's
life partner instead of the artist. Famous artists in general are a
boring bunch -- what's interesting about them is the art they produce.
But the people who have to make a life with an artist -- they're the
ones whose heads I want to get a peek at.
"Cutie and the Boxer" is a documentary about well-known artist Ushio Shinohara and his wife, Noriko. He's 80, she's 60. They live hand-to-mouth in NYC, never sure how they're going to pay their rent from one month to the next. Noriko is incredibly supportive of the self-absorbed Ushio, to the detriment of her own career as an artist. The film is a day-in-the-life story about these two and the dynamic between them. It's a portrait of a marriage that has been wildly successful on the one hand (they're still together and seem to be very much in love) and full of regret on the other (disappointment in themselves for the mess of a son they raised). Noriko teases Ushio constantly about what a jerk he is and how she doesn't know why she puts up with him. Ushio laughs but looks uneasy -- we don't blame him, because Noriko's teasings always seem to built on a foundation of true resentment.
The lives of Ushio and Noriko are about as different from mine as possible, yet the thing that makes "Cutie and the Boxer" so good is its appeal is universal. Anyone who's made a true effort at building a life with a partner should find something to relate to in this film.
I was expecting a movie about a brilliant but not really well known
artist and the woman behind him. I was expecting the movie to explore
their long relationship. This is what I got, but what hit me from left
field was how the movie focused on boxing painter Ushio Shinohara's
wife Noriko, as she used the film (and her art) to pent her frustration
of her life being over shadowed by a semi self destructive genius.
It was an interesting story of a young girl who leap into her ideals without looking and more so fell in love with an ideal that embodied Ushio Shinohara.
Cutie and the Boxer gives off a strange feeling. It's a downer without being depressing. She never gives the impression that you should feel sorry for her. After all, she lived her dreams, it just did not turn out as she thought it would. I'm sure a lot of artist feel the same about their struggle.
It's a brilliant movie about two struggling artist both financially emotionally and in the case of Cutie artistically.
And I love how the filmmaker allows the narrative to tell most of the story with very little voice over or interview. He points the camera at Cutie and The Boxer and lets it tell the tale with inter cuts of home movies archive footage and moving graphics of Cutie's Art. I learned so much about the couple in this matter and it was clear without adding too many traditional documentary device.
Definitely, one of the most interesting subjects I've seen for a documentary.
Age is a funny thing. Most days I really feel my age, but from outward
appearances, most people guess well below my actual years.
As we age, we tend to think of dying and disease. One of the partners in a marriage is usually suffering more than the other. You have to sometimes forget your troubles to tend to the other.
This film is about a married couple who have reached that point in their lives. We see how they see themselves and their partner. Noriko willingly made sacrifices for Ushio, but now she wants to develop her own interests.
The dance between these two artists is fascinating, tender, and sometimes loud, but never boring.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Whenever I hear that a couple has been married for a long time, say 40
or 50 or even 60 years, my mind tries to consider how such a thing is
possible. What keeps people together? How do they manage a marriage
that takes up 80% of their lives? How do you settle with another person
indefinitely? How do you deal, year after year, with someone who drives
you crazy? "Cutie and the Boxer" is a fascinating fly-on-the-wall
documentary that chooses one married couple as a means of answering
those very questions. Noriko and Ushio Shinohara are a Japanese couple
who have been married for 40 years. They aren't quite equals. He's an
abstract artist who hasn't exactly made himself a household name.
Noriko seems to function, more or less, as a dutiful housewife. She
cooks, she cleans and she complains about his expensive trips to show
off art that don't yield much money. He throws off her complains with
"Hey, it's something." Ushio's art - which he creates by punching a
canvas with paint-dipped boxing gloves - is popular but, he admits,
nothing that anyone really wants to buy (watching him create the piece
is more fun than the actual result). He also sculpts large grotesque
and colorful sculptures of motorcycles that look cool in a museum but
aren't anything that anyone wants in their home.
Noriko exists, more or less, off in the corner of Ushio's life. She tolerates his attempts to supplement a living making art that no one will pay money for. Oh, he makes a little, but we can see that his meager income has forced them into a cramped living space in Brooklyn, with spaces filled by his art and other assorted clutter. She complains about the cost, then later he comes home and slaps money on the table with a "so there" satisfaction.
The most wonderful thing about "Cutie and the Boxer" is the way in which it simply leaves us alone to observe Noriko and Ushio. This is a movie completely devoid of talking heads. We learn about them through their experience with each other and some flashback information that shows us how they met that gives us a template of how they got where they are. They met in New York City, in 1969. Noriko was a 19 year old art student; Ushio was 40 and making avant-garde art. It was a good plan but then real life burst in the door. They got married and circumstances forced her to be housewife and supporter of a struggling artist who would spend the next 40 years in a state of professional stalemate.
Presently, we see Noriko struggling to recapture her dream, drawing a series of cartoons called "Cutie and Bullie" which depict her life with Noriko through cherubic characters that are half-autobiographical and half-pornographic. Their bond is touching, but we wonder what keeps them going. As the movie opens, they have cake together Ushio woofs it down and gets frosting on his face. Noriko tells him to wipe it off but he ignores her. "I don't listen to you," he tells her. "That is how I stay young." It is that kind of connective resistance that keeps them together. They are contentious, combative, competitive, yet somehow strangely affectionate. There are moments that the camera captures that no screenwriter could invent. Take a moment late in the film when Ushio finishes one of his paintings. He asks Noriko what she thinks. "It's not good", she says. Then the camera lingers on Ushio's face, he's hurt and a little upset, but he never tells his wife. The scene shifts to sometime later and we can still see the pain on his face.
Their competitive nature exists all through their marriage. That's especially true at they draw to an upcoming art exhibition in a New York gallery in which they will both be showing off their work. "Art is a demon that drags you along," Ushio says. "It's something you can't stop even if you should." What he doesn't admit is that their respective artistic visions are the glue that binds their marriage together.
***1/2 (of four)
It was the perfect title name. Cutie (Noriko) is an illustrator and her
husband Bullie (Ushio) is 20 years older than her who is a craft maker
live in New York city. Usually documentaries about successful people
would consider as inspiration. But this movie features two Japanese
born couples who are masterful in art and crafts and their unsuccessful
career. A good opportunity for us, a lesson to learn from their
mistakes in life. Simultaneously, their relationship inspires about how
to share happiness as well to face the worst situations.
This movie won't only tell about the art and crafts, but also the romantic life. Especially it clearly denotes the difference between east and west regarding relationships. Married life is full of ups and downs, taking part in all the situation together is a true commitment. In this movie, it explains very nicely those subplots alongside main theme. When Bullie was in a trouble Cutie gave a solid support, that is what every man asks for. They too had small-small fights sometime big. In the west, that is enough one to get divorced.
This story is set when Bullie celebrates his 80th birthday. It was amazing to know their 40 year relationship stood unbreakable. But what I bothered was their son Alex who was totally discarded in between these two's life's struggles. Too bad that he became alcoholic like his father that led him failure in life. This movie won't tell much about Alex, he appears only for a few minutes. At those times it is clearly understandable about failed parenting.
Success won't only come from the true dedication, sometimes it depends on others too. It requires identifying their talent and give an opportunity to work and right value for their products. This couple's talent was not recognized due to the people of society who are unfamiliar with this kinda art. I believe if they would have lived those 40 years in Japan it would have been different lifestyle they could experienced. Only the time and place they had was wrong.
"Love is a roarrrr!!" This is the theme which echoes throughout Oscar
nominee for best documentary "Cutie and the Boxer"; a movie that
undoubtedly nobody has heard of.
More about Cutie than the Boxer: Starting off as an attempt to shine light on artist Ushio Shinorhara, best known for his avant-garde pieces and action paintings from the late 60's to today, where he physically uses everything from his fists to his forehead as a paintbrush, director Zachary Heinzerling lays out an introspective story of this somewhat eccentrically generic artist as he sets up a gallery exhibition. But in an odd twist of fate, Heinzerling inadvertently captures a far more interesting subplot surrounding Shinohara's much younger wife, Noriko, giving audiences a look at the portrait of a strained marriage, filled with alcoholism and regret, where Noriko (a very talented artist herself) lives in her husband's shadow, as she likens her marriage to "two flowers growing in the same pot." Opening with the striking image of an 80 year old Asian man putting on comically large boxing gloves, dipping them into black paint and proceeding to aggressively pummel a white canvas, which stands twice his size, it would be easy to say this is a doc which contains some imagery that commands attention. But more so, "Cutie and the Boxer" contains more intriguing nuances within its character analysis. Especially during the latter portions, where Heinzerling focuses more on Noriko and her hand drawn animations; animations which star a quite liberated female character, who goes by the name "Cutie". During this section of the film "Cutie and the Boxer" takes its purest and most developed form, as these character's true motivations become transparent.
Heinzerling uses the most creative means possible to bring different layers of this story to life and the cinematography is pretty great (the final shot was subtly the most artistic image in the entire film). But although the meat of this worked for me, I never felt as engaged with the subjects or subject matter as I believe Heinzerling would have liked me to.
Final Thought: "Cutie and the Boxer" is honestly a movie that, from the poster alone, I was dreading to have to sit down and watch. Now, was I blown away after I finished this? No. But if you are on Netflix and interested in watching a film regarding a case of female liberation masquerading as an art documentary, then "Cutie and the Boxer" is an interesting enough watch.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I really liked this exceptional documentary which is filled with
surprises. It focuses on the personal lives and careers of acclaimed
artist and sculptor Ushio Shinohara and his wife Noriko, also an artist
and illustrator. In 1969, they met in New York City, when Noriko was
new to America and only 19 years old, while Ushio was already 41.
Despite their very divergent personalities (as Noriko states "opposites attract like magnets") they've been married now for 39 years and have a son Alex, who also has artistic talent. They've allowed the viewer of this film to see them as they really are, "warts" and all, in their present life and through powerful home movie clips taken decades before. To me they seem like the perfect couple in so many ways.
Ushio, who turned 80 years-old as the movie progresses, and who still seems to have the energy of a 25 year-old, is still an amazing artist. One of his trademarks is to don boxing gloves dipped in paint and punch his art onto a canvas producing remarkable art. He also is noted for sculptures, often of huge motorcycles, made from cardboard and painted over.
Noriko displays her talents as well by bringing to life a tableau, in sort-of comic book style, of her life with Ushio (called Bullie in the illustrations). One note here: that her illustrations can be quite explicit regarding nudity and genitalia. Noriko talks about how her career has often been placed on hold due to family concerns, as well as Ushio's alcoholism, and his disregard for financial rewards.
As the film opens, they are discussing how they're struggling to pay the rent and bills for the month. They begin to prepare their works for two art gallery shows and Ushio goes to Japan to try and sell some items and raise immediate cash. I found myself really rooting for them to make some sales, as their work, I thought, was really excellent.
Overall, this documentary, directed by Zachary Heinzerling, was quite fascinating, with the vibrant and humorous personalities of Ushio and Noriko really resonating with me. It was nominated for Best Documentary at the 2014 Oscars.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Zachary Heinzerling's documentary is crafted as masterfully as any art
film I've seen. The subjectstwo Japanese-American artists who work in
New York City, Ushio and Noriko Shinohara. Accented by telling moments
and minutes of silence, thought, and reminiscences, the film exposes
one of the truly beautiful and mystifying characteristics of the
Japanese language. So much is exposed in so very few words, but those
words are accompanied by expressions of emotion and 'understood'
acknowledgments that seem unfinished or cut off to someone who does not
speak Japanese. As an appropriate demonstration of the expression of
these two lives and the communication they've shared, the film is
framed by live creation of art by the two artists. Ushio creates
"action painting" by hitting a canvas with sponges attached to boxing
gloves, and Noriko composes a story in drawings creating the character
"Cutie" based on her own life, but with elements that are only realized
in Noriko's fantasies.
One of the most striking things about this film is the fact that it captures moments that seem unbearably awkward to me but are received matter-of-factly by Ushio and Noriko in turn. There is a sense of pride present in Ushio, which he expresses unabashedly at times in the film, but there are also incredibly humbling moments of relinquishing that pride that delivered by an American artist may come off as tongue-in-cheek, but delivered by Ushio is completely straightforward and blanched. His situation is what it is, there is no reason to try to disguise it. Their ceiling is leaking and they may not be able to pay rent this month. Shikata ga nai, "It can't be helped." The two of them were brought together by the connection and agreement they shared when considering their art to be the absolute priority of their lives. This focus unfortunately caused a deterioration in other parts of their life together, particularly when Noriko has a child. The life of these struggling artists seems to have been punctuated by long periods of distraction. Because in reality, especially trying to live in New York City, art cannot always be the 24/7 preoccupation you want it to be, there is an alternative mindset that may take the place of despair, one that colors the world with the colors similar to the artist's palate, keeping the shelf prepped and continuously in view no matter what else is going on. Noriko and Ushio have long ago determined to live their lives the way they alone see their lives. One of full of color and life, necessary sadness and equally necessary resilience. I don't think that their perspectives lack recognition of the regrets they carry with them, as their discussion of their son's alcoholism similar to his father's demonstrates. The film utilizes close-ups of Noriko in particular to highlight the presence of pain, but it does not run rampant in her mind, knocking over tables. Instead it seems like a silent observer, taking in the reality around it without trying to escape in any way.
The varied and abrupt cuts throughout the film create a patchwork that for me makes the film seem like I am looking through a photo album instead of following a narrative, and I like this. It's like walking through an art gallery where many different themes and impressions are introduced and it is up to the viewer to take in what he or she will and to assign relevance where it lies in each mind.
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