In Cutie and the Boxer, Zachary Heinzerling gives the underappreciated and now elderly boxing painter Ushio Shinohara his long overdue adulation. While the film has many shots of Ushio’s work, it was much more than a documentary about art; it is one that shows how a couple, who have been married the past four decades, that still manages to get along with one another despite many years of financial struggles, resentment, and disagreements. Heinzerling does a fantastic job at combining an art biopic with a marital one.
But this is no happy story; despite being a couple at the end of their years, Ushio and Noriko Shinohara still experience financial trouble. At eighty years old, Ushio still attempts and struggles to sell his work, as if he were a fresh young artist trying to get public recognition. The documentary takes viewers into the every day lives of the Shinoharas; cameras follow Ushio and Noriko through their modest cluttered apartment, Ushio’s showering, and Ushio and Noriko’s interactions during dinner. Despite occasionally joking with one another, one can sense a slight resentment that Noriko may feel for Ushio for holding back her career. The couple, at least in the film, never showed any real romantic interest in one another, but rather communicated with each other as if they were close friends. Even near the end, after Noriko gave her monologue to Ushio, I expected Ushio to tell her “I love you,” a feeling that he failed to show Noriko throughout the film. Instead, Ushio said “I need you.” Ushio seemed to feel uncomfortable telling his own wife that he loves her, something I sensed early on in the film.
This film is not without its exemplifications of myths surrounding the artist. First, Noriko, an artist herself, has struggled with her own artistic identity since marrying Ushio. She wants to be famous for her own works, but was forced to put her career on hold and now feels as if she’s living in her husband’s shadow. Similar to Jackson Pollock & Lee Krasner, and Wayne White & Mimi Pond, it appears to be a common theme among married artists that the wife is frequently the one to hang her career in the sidelines in favor of her husband. Nevertheless, even at Noriko’s elderly age, she has not given up drawing her “Cutie” novellas. As she says in the documentary, even if she never succeeds in putting her work out there in the public eye, she enjoys doing it for herself.
The myth of alcoholism is also explored here. Ushio is a former alcoholic himself, and the discovery of this affair immediately attests to the many problems and obstacles Ushio and Noriko have faced in their forty-year marriage. While Ushio has now cut back on alcohol, it remains a trait that they unfortunately have passed on to his now adult son, Alex, from whom Noriko and Ushio attempt to hide the alcohol. When Noriko constantly checks the refrigerator to see if her son has taken the wine, one can see the stress with which Noriko has to deal. Not only if she struggling financially, but she has to keep a guard out for her adult son. She is wise beyond her years, but experiencing the problems of a young couple.
To add, I have to say that I am infuriated with the MPAA with rating this film R for “nude art images.” Granted, an R or PG13 won’t really make a difference in the box office for a film like this, but it is still about principle. The film had no course language, no violence, no graphic images; simple just nude art pieces. Titanic was given a PG13 for despite having frontal nudity, because it was deemed to be for artistic purposes. So, it does not make sense for a mere drawing of nudity in a movie about art not to be considered artistic. If I were a filmmaker for this film, I would certainly protest the rating. The MPAA rating is inconsistent and outdated; I would like to see them disappear sometime in this century.