Director: Zachary Heinzerling
Starring: Ushio Shinohara, Noriko Shinohara, Alex Shinohara
The Academy Award nominations have been announced and four of the five nominees for Best Documentary are currently streaming on Netflix. As an artist married to an artist, I was drawn to the story of Cutie and the Boxer. Ushio Shinohara is celebrating his 80th birthday. He came to New York as a young artist from Japan and received acclaim for his sculpture work and paintings. At the age of 41, he met Noriko who was only 19 at the time. She was instantly impressed by his work as she had never seen anything like it. Six months later she was pregnant with their son, Alex. He continued his artwork while living life on the wild side, eventually becoming an alcoholic. Noriko felt forced to put her career on the back burner in order to raise their son and take care of their family due to his lack of responsibility and maturity.
In the present day, they are facing huge money troubles and cannot pay the rent that is due. Ushio opens a new exhibit featuring his boxing glove paintings with a representative from the Guggenheim interested in his work. Noriko has spent her life feeling inferior to him as if he has treated her like his assistant. She believes Alex struggles with a drinking problem and blames Ushio and knows they did not give him a proper environment to grow up in. She decides to let her creative nature come alive again with new illustrations about a girl named "Cutie" and her husband "Bullie". The illustrations begin outlining their relationship to which Ushio dismisses them despite the positive feedback she receives after showing it in their joint exhibition.
As the film begins, you think you may be watching this story about an elderly artist still working hard at what he loves and will not let age, health, or money stop him from continuing his passion. I am sure Ushio wants you to believe this is his story and that he is the artist of the family. The truth and heart of the story belongs with Noriko as we watch her finally come into her own after a long marriage of feeling like she and her art took the back burner compared to Ushio's lifestyle. There is a sadness and heartbreak to her story as you wish he had been more supportive and that she didn't have these feelings throughout their marriage. At the same time, I do not believe they have a terrible marriage as Noriko still loves Ushio and their love is evident.
Cutie and the Boxer is another prime example of a film I probably would not have paid too much attention to as I strolled through the Netflix Streaming options, but I am so glad I gave it a watch. If the title throws you off, do not worry as they are merely nicknames for Ushio (Boxer) and Noriko (Cutie). As an artist, it is easy to understand the trials and tribulations of putting yourself and your work out there to get judged and critiqued by others. When it is your passion, you do not let anyone or anything get in your way. The power art has over us is undeniable. Ushio and Noriko have never given up on their passion no matter how small and cramped their apartment is, no matter how little money they have, and no matter how the public or critics respond to it. Their love for each other and their art grows and molds around each other. They may have disagreements and bicker. There is jealousy and frustrations along the way, but it is inspiring and moving to know their deep internal love prevails and makes them each better people.
RATING: **** (4 out of 5 stars)