A reflection on love, sacrifice, and the creative spirit, this candid New York story explores the chaotic 40-year marriage of renowned "boxing" painter Ushio Shinohara and his artist wife, Noriko. As a rowdy, confrontational young artist in Tokyo, Ushio seemed destined for fame, hut met with little commercial success after he moved to New York City in 1969, seeking international recognition. When 19-year-old Noriko moved to New York to study art, she fell in love with Ushio abandoning her education to become the wife and assistant to an unruly husband. Over the course of their marriage, the roles have shifted. Now 80, Ushio struggles to establish his artistic legacy, while Noriko is at last being recognized for her own art - a series of drawings entitled "Cutie", depicting her challenging past with Ushio. Spanning four decades, the film is a moving portrait of a couple wrestling with the eternal themes of sacrifice, disappointment and aging, against a background of lives dedicated to art.
Documentary films like Cutie & the Boxer are unique in the way they look at different areas of society but infuriating in the way they present a subject that is impossible to understand. The real life people displayed behave in ways hard to comprehend in the search for meaning in their lives. The film is ultimately a love story despite the documentary setting and a very one sided love story at that.
Cutie & the Boxer follows Ushio Shinohara, a struggling artist in New York City and the art he creates with assistant and wife Noriko. Ushio tries to create pieces he can sell to pay their rent as Noriko begins to regret the life she has led and why she never got to make the kind of art she imagined. The film looks at their marriage and the different ways they see their relationship.
While Noriko is a fascinating and empathetic person, Ushio is the opposite, he only thinks of himself and his art, never the people around him and he brings about suffering because of it but Noriko accepts these flaws as if they were her own fault. She is a tragic figure to watch and follow while she takes everything Ushio throws at her without saying a thing.
The film is beautifully vivid but at times comes across as stagey with moments between Ushio and the art dealers and critics he surrounds himself with coming off as performances, be it their smarmy selling techniques or their pretentious observations, the film is filled with detestable characters.
Often slow, Cutie & the Boxer never really builds to any strong conclusion, instead it is intent to watch a couple settle into a malaise as they accept the life they have been given. The film is ultimately a depressing watch, not the inspirational tale of the constant struggle of the artist to become someone, but a tale of a love taken for granted and someone too stupid to realize it.
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