“Be careful,” he says. “Don’t get mugged on the way home.” That’s how 80-year-old artist Ushio Shinohara bids goodbye to his wife, Noriko, an artist 22 years his junior, as she leaves the studio. Once she’s gone, he turns to the camera: “She is just an assistant. The average one has to support the genius.” Zachary Heinzerling’s documentary Cutie and the Boxer zeroes in on the often tumultuous, always fascinating relationship between Ushio and Noriko, both Japanese immigrants who’ve lived in Brooklyn for decades (and, by the looks of their cluttered second-floor walkup, haven’t thrown out anything in that time). Ushio had some measure of fame as a ’70s enfant terrible, drinking too much—we see some truly wrenching archival footage—and specializing in a pugilistic form of action painting, punching giant canvases with paint-drenched boxing gloves. (Now a lean octogenarian in neon-yellow swim goggles, he still produces these works, flinging his fists and splattering his bare chest with paint.) Noriko, meanwhile, set aside her own considerable artistic talents to tend to her volatile husband and young son, who as an adult has picked up the alcohol habit his father managed to kick. But now Noriko has rediscovered the brush, and she illustrates whimsical, semiautobiographical cartoons about a pigtailed character named Cutie and her explosive husband, Bullie. Heinzerling, a first-time director, neither takes sides nor reduces the relationship to something quaint or tragic—it’s a deeply affecting yet keen-eyed portrait of the struggles of art, love and life.
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- Release Date: Tuesday, September 24, 2013
- Critic's Score: A-
- Watch the trailer