Winner at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, Zachary Heinzerling’s documentary Cutie and the Boxer is an incredibly touching portrait of art, companionship, and the 40-year love story between Ushio and Noriko Shinohara, two Japanese artists who meet and marry in New York in the early 1970s. Surviving decades of hardship, resentment, financial anxiety, thwarted aspirations, and Ushio’s chronic alcoholism, they are a compelling study in artistic symbiosis.
Now 80 years old and finally sober, Ushio is preparing a joint exhibit with Noriko, yet he still treats her as a de facto assistant. Ushio’s mixed-media sculptures and “boxing” paintings, infused with chaotic energy, have brought notoriety—but rarely income. Meanwhile, Noriko, emerging from her husband’s shadow, creates intimate comic-styled watercolor and ink drawings that tell the story—a muted empowerment fantasy—of their alter egos, Cutie and Bullie.
Beautifully photographed and skillfully crafted, Cutie and the Boxer moves fluidly between past and present, employing a vérité aesthetic, archival footage, and beautifully animated sequences of Noriko’s drawings. Heinzerling seamlessly inhabits their space, observing its rhythms and textures, their complex dynamic, and the creative vitality that fuels their lives.
“Cutie and the Boxer” opens Aug. 16 in New York and Los Angeles, with a national release to follow.