It isn’t often that a film comes along with so many undertones that I am left with part sadness and part wonderment by the end of it. Cutie and the Boxer is one such documentary that looks at the lives of a Japanese artist couple that are integral an element of the New York art world.
Termed as one of the few popular artists who are still trying to make ends meet, the story of Ushio and Noriko Shinohara, who have now been married for close to 40 years, is full of artistic beauty and personal sadness. While Ushio has made his mark as the “boxing painter” which involves making abstract art by punching the canvas wearing boxing gloves with colour, Noriko is trying to re-discover her love of art with her artistic creation Cutie.
Besides the struggles of an artist to get his or her art noticed first and then most importantly bought, the documentary looks at how both husband and wife have suppressed their inner most wants and desires during the many years of their marriage. The most important discovery is that of Noriko as she tells her story, through animation based on her drawings, of coming to American and being seduced by an artist almost twice her age, with no fixed income, and adapting to a lifestyle that has over the years left her shallow. What is instrumental in her “awakening” is the realization that now, at this age, it is Ushio who needs her more, and thus she is able to break out of her shell and express herself both verbally and artistically.
Cutie and Boxer tackles a number of issues, although very subtly; be it alcoholism, parenting, financial stability, artistic freedom, and most importantly marriage, it stays away from diving too deep into these private circumstances. On the one hand there is just so much angst in these two characters that it is impossible to tackle each issue individually, but then a little more in-depth analysis of say how their unconventional parenting style has led to their son becoming an alcoholic would have been interesting. The films does leave a lot for the audience to interpret on their own, and the fact that every little fact is not spoon-fed and we see this marriage through different phases of its life is actually more intellectually satisfying.
Cutie and the Boxer is a brilliant character study, but more importantly it is a breakdown of marriage life and an optimistic tale of woman upliftment and the fact that there is no right age to re-discover your passion and give it all you got.