Cutie And The Boxer (15)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner31/10/2013

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 82 mins

Engaging, fly-on-the-wall documentary that paints an intriguing portrait of the artistic process and offers a fascinating glimpse into the workings of a 40 year old marriage, with all its attendant ups and downs.

What's it all about?
Directed by Zachary Heinzerling, Cutie and the Boxer is a New York based documentary about the 40 year old marriage between acclaimed 81 year old artist Ushio Shinohara (who specialises in sculptures and a series of paintings whereby he punches the paint onto the canvas using boxing gloves) and his wife Noriko, who married him when she was a 19 year old art student and he was 41. Despite years of financial hardship and Ushio's alcoholism, Noriko has remained fiercely loyal to her husband throughout, and the film begins with them celebrating Ushio's 80th birthday and preparing for a show of his work, since his star appears to be rising again, perhaps because he has recently stopped drinking due to ill health.

However, after decades of effectively working as Ushio's unpaid assistant (not to mention doing all the housework and raising their now adult son), Noriko is only just beginning to emerge as an artist in her own right and she takes the opportunity to show visiting gallery owners her series of cartoonish drawings that she calls Cutie and the Boxer, telling a story that's not too dissimilar to her own life.

The Good
The film begins with a terrific opening credits sequence that sees Ushio create one of his famed boxing paintings from start to finish, as he punches paint-soaked boxing gloves across a canvas, moving from right to left, set to a superb score. The rest of the film unfolds largely fly-on-the-wall style, capturing their bickering interactions (frequently very funny) and their general conversations (an argument about Old Spielberg vs Young Spielberg is a highlight), as well as their hopes for their upcoming art show.

The Great
In addition, director Heinzerling includes a wealth of archive material such as photographs and home movies (a sequence showing a clearly wasted Ushio crying about being a failure makes for uneasy viewing), as well as making strong use of Noriko's drawings (which are sometimes animated), which serve to tell an exaggerated version of their story (though she admits that Cutie is better at taming Bullie than she is with Ushio). What's interesting is that it's impossible to look at Noriko's art without realising that it clearly came from the various hardships she's endured in her life; it's also fascinating to try and discern Ushio's feelings about her success, particularly when so much of their life together is laid bare in her drawings.

Worth seeing?
This is a well made documentary that paints a fascinating portrait of marriage, art and the creative process. Recommended.

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Content updated: 23/10/2017 05:22

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