Review: Cutie and the Boxer (Heinzerling, 2013)

Still from the movie Cutie and the Boxer

I’m convinced that my favorite documentaries are the ones that place individuals (as opposed to events, movements, or issues) under a microscope. Cutie and the Boxer follows two elderly Japanese artists, Ushio and Noriko Shinohara, living in New York City, but the film is as much about their 39-year-old marriage as it is about their art. There is a tension between the couple that is evident from the opening scenes of the film but that is nonetheless belied by their peaceful demeanor. Stunning what hurtful words can be delivered with a smile–o serpent heart hid with a flowering face–and yet the daggers land bloodlessly. The turmoil, we suspect, is within, where the cameras cannot follow.

Cutie and the Boxer perfectly captures the madness, the schizophrenia of being in a long-term relationship. The dichotomy of I hate him/I love him, of need and freedom, of partner and enemy. And the struggling artist trope lends a picturesque backdrop to this ongoing battle between self and other, self and self. Though Ushio Shinohara has met with some success and fame, the couple still argues over the quotidian concerns one usually associates with the rest of us drudges (paying the bills, dividing household responsibilities, raising a child) as well as ones that are more particular to their rarefied professions (fighting for the space–both material and psychological–to express, to create, and, most of all, to be appreciated).

The film left me feeling contemplative and inspired.

Note: If you’re expecting more traditional, serene, classical art from these oldies-but-goodies, revise your assumptions. Ushio Shinohara‘s work is impressionistic and avant-garde and Noriko’s is watercolor meets graphic novel in a semi-autobiographical tone that reminds me of Nina Paley’s Sita Sings the Blues.