Cutie and The Boxer is a documentary that explores the life of a struggling artist and what being an artist really means.
Ushio Shinohara is a leading avant-garde artist in Japan and New York but can barely lift his family out of poverty. His marriage has managed to survive despite this, with a dynamic that alternates between love and contempt. Director Zachary Heinzerling provides an intimate portrait of their threadbare existence. Noriko makes half-meant jokes at her husband’s expense. Ushio treats his wife as a lesser artist. It becomes clear later on, that her talents are stifled by his.
However, Ushio’s talent, which is the main focus of the documentary, is not justified.
Why is his art considered so avant-garde yet unpalatable in the American market? His art pieces sell but why does he struggle to achieve success? Why are his paint-spattered canvases and scrap heap motorcycle sculptures too weird in an industry where sanitary napkins could be turned into art installations?
These questions are not answered. As a result, it’s not an effective tale of an unappreciated genius, whose critically acclaimed talent looms over his family’s existence. The documentary would have been better structured around them instead.
Noriko’s suffering has enabled her to become an independent artist with a style of her own – fittingly about a girl named Cutie who fell in love with a broke artist named Bullie. Her son, despite inheriting his father’s alcoholism, shows signs of artistic talent.
In fairness, the relationship between art and commerce is puzzling. Art is the for privileged few who can afford expensive useless things as tokens of high social status. As Headhunters have shown us, it’s all about reputation.
The documentary ends on a hopeful note. You’ll find yourself rooting for the couple and a better appreciation for those who truly suffer for their art.
Cutie and The Boxer succeed in drawing a parallel between art and marriage – a constant work in progress that requires stubborn optimism.
Cutie and The Boxer
Cutie and The Boxer is a moving testament to the creative spirit shown through the marriage of a fascinating and complex couple.