Modest and Intimate, Cutie and the Boxer Paints the Complicated Reality of An Aging Artist Couple


A quietly profound study of a complex marriage between two artists, Cutie and the Boxer details the relationship of Ushio Shinohara—an avant-garde icon known for his motorcycle sculptures and “action paintings” created by punching a canvas with paint-coated boxing gloves—and his loyal wife, Noriko. With regular home-movie flashbacks to both happier and more volatile days, first-time filmmaker Zachary Heinzerling’s documentary opens with the 80th birthday of Ushio. We see his pending NYC gallery show stir jealousy and regret in Noriko, who sacrificed her own creative dreams in order to facilitate Ushio’s career and raise their son, Alex, whose devolution into the same alcoholism that for years plagued Ushio is a source of tremendous guilt for Noriko. With an intimacy and empathy that’s all the more powerful for its modesty, the film investigates the complicated feelings of resentment and affection between wife and husband, all of which become manifest in Noriko’s latest project, an autobiographical cartoon that the director brings to animated life as a means of validating Noriko’s own aspirations and talent. Both amusing and acutely perceptive, it’s a portrait of the way in which art is born from suffering, and how that pain can lead to both beauty and, ultimately, catharsis.