Zachary Heinzerling’s documentary examines the relationship between artist Ushio Shinohara, and his wife Noriko. Ushio gained fame in his youth for ‘painting’ by punching paint onto canvas with boxing gloves. Noriko has always supported her husband, but is also an artist; she draws pictures that tell a story. However, Noriko has always struggled to emerge from the shadow of her more famous husband.
There is little doubt that Ushio’s method of painting is an interesting one, but surely after 40 years of doing the same thing over and over, Ushio has run out of ideas? During the course of the documentary, it is revealed that the couple often struggle for money, as Ushio is not as famous as he once was. As well as this, Ushio is reluctant to allow his wife to try to succeed with her art. At one point he states ‘The average one must support the genius’. This gives the audience a very clear idea of Ushio’s image of himself and, while there are moments of tenderness between the husband and wife, it is clear that Ushio’s cruel, alcoholic days are not entirely behind him.
Noriko is a woman who has dedicated her life to her husband, even though, when they first met, she had come to New York to become a great artist. Noriko’s story is one that is filled with tragedy; she gave up her dreams to be with a man who does not appreciate her, but she seems to have channelled this into her work.
Heinzerling’s documentary is a commentary on the nature of sacrifice, success and ageing. It seems that everything is thrown into stark relief when Ushio realises that he has turned 80, and there is something tragic about a couple living in a cramped apartment in New York in what should be their ‘golden years’. Is this what it means to be an artist? Their dedication to their work is admirable, but it also comes across as rather self-involved. A little like Ushio himself. The contrasts between Ushio and Noriko as people, and in their work is astonishing; his work is colourful and violent, and hers is gentle and slow. It may be easy to compare their work styles to their personalities, but the description fits almost too well.
Cutie and the Boxer is a story of selfishness and sacrifice. The tables turn again and again throughout the film, as both Noriko and Ushio fight for their own survival. The art created by the couple may not be to everyone’s taste, but this look at a microcosm of love and relationships is a fascinating, and often repulsive one.