VOD Review - Cutie and the Boxer

Ushio Shinohara (left) and his wife Noriko
in "Cutie and the Boxer"
Zachary Heinzerling's documentary centers on two elderly artists in New York City as they prepare for a huge gallery show. It just so happens that the two artists are married. It begins on the 80th birthday of the husband, Ushio Shinohara, a Japanese immigrant who creates paintings on large canvases as well as out-of-scale sculptures of motorcycles and animals using thrown-out cardboard. His wife Noriko Shinohara is a comic book artist. Her chief creation is a semi-autobiographical character named Cutie. Noriko's work is more intelligent and satirical, whereas Ushio's work is more avant-garde, raw and emotional. His technique in fact is unique because how he paints includes putting on huge boxing gloves, dipping them in paints and then punching the colors onto the huge canvas in violent bursts, timed between one to two minutes only.

Heinzerling earns his Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Feature through his camerawork and editing alone. He only conducts one interview. The rest is just following Ushio and Noriko, which is really just limited from shuttling between their cramped and shabby apartment to their wide but shabby art studio. His coverage of their conversations and his cuts of their actions and his scenes would fool you into thinking it was all scripted. It all flows so perfectly, so seamlessly.

Perhaps, it's because of their ages or their comfort around Heinzerling who probably befriended them enough to be ignored by them on most days. However it was done, credit must be given to Heinzerling for creating a filming-environment that allowed these real people to be open and revealing, and seemingly unaware of the camera, as to let honesty only pass onto the screen.

Integrating news footage, home movies and animation into his unobtrusive camerawork, Heinzerling paints a honest portrait of the Shinohara family, including its troubles. It's arguable that Heinzerling tells this story more through Noriko's point-of-view than Ushio's. This is good because the point-of-view of a struggling artist and his substance abuse problems has been done a billion times before. It's cliché. Yet, telling the story through the eyes of that artist's spouse who's also an artist but who is in his shadow is a unique take.

The sequence regarding Ushio and Noriko's son Alex Shinohara is powerful. The scary self-portrait of Alex, which ends his appearance in the film is a knockout and perfectly conveys the damage done.

Heinzerling just captures some great moments. Some moments are funny like Ushio commenting on Steven Spielberg and the Indiana Jones movies. Some moments are sweet like bathing a cat, and some are heartbreaking like when Noriko explains what "Love is a roar" means.

Lastly, I just have to comment on Ushio Shinohara as a man. Yes, on his 80th birthday, he gets duck slippers, so, yes, he's an old man, but the man uses boxing techniques with great vigor. He's very spry and he swims like an Olympic athlete. I hope to be that energetic at that age.

Five Stars out of Five.
Rated R for nude art images.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 21 mins.


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