Documentary films have the rare power to capture life like no other medium. Great documentaries like the phenomenal Act of Killing and Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine offer us a very unique and personal exercise in the human condition. Cutie and the Boxer is something of an enigma; for one thing, it defies tradition with its abstract picture of a self-proclaimed “boxing artist”, Ushio Shinohara and his assistant, Noriko, who also happens to be his loving wife.
The documentary chronicles the inner workings of a highly creative couple, husband Ushio is highly regarded by the underground art scene for his surreal alternative works and wishes to be recognised by a larger audience through a dedicated exhibition. Ushio is famed for his unique style of painting; dipping a pair of boxing gloves in colourful inks and paints and then striking the canvas, creating brilliant patterns, bursting full of energy. Ushio’s wife, Noriko, wishes to break free from her husband’s shadow and wishes to be seen as a credible artist on her own merit.
Cutie and the Boxer explores the dynamic, and sometimes strained, relationship between two very creative people, who both have very different attitudes and motives behind their art. Noriko’s art is very self-reflective and autobiographic whereas Ushio is based on impulse and raw energy. Though they are very different people in their own right, there is no denying the underlying affection they have for each other, it is refreshing to see such an honest and truthful relationship on screen.
This is very much a film that is open to interpretation; I don’t believe that there is any profound message behind the film and I don’t think there was meant to be one. Cutie and the Boxer is for lovers of art and those who are interested in real human drama. I felt attached to both Ushio and Noriko to a certain extent; I warmed to them both as people and as artists. Though I can’t say that I have fallen in love with Ushio or Noriko’s art, I can see the thought, direction and hard work behind each piece. Ushio was part of Japan’s rebellious avant-garde scene in the 1960’s, and at the age of 81, you can still see what drives him to paint, sculpt and draw. For Noriko, her art is far more melancholic and emotional. As a young woman she lived for art but after so many years caring for her family she simply lost the energy for it and now as an older woman, her art tells the story of her life. She may have lost her way in the past but her burning artistic vision never truly died.
There’s no doubt that Cutie and the Boxer celebrates art and artists but the film led me to believe that the whole art scene was a very cynical and shallow system. I found myself feeling very bitter towards the art dealers who were praising Ushio with such a nauseating atmosphere of elitism and pretention. For what it’s worth, I truly felt like I was experiencing the day in the life of an artist, from the highs of selling a piece to the excruciating lows of rejection and self-loathing.
My only real criticism of the film is its blatant objectivity in certain places. I wanted someone to address Ushio for his actions or learn more of Noriko’s past. This is what great documentaries do, they invest us in the lives of others. After the film had finished, I was still thinking about the couple and I wondered what future they may have together, whether Ushio will thank Noriko for everything she has done for him, for standing by him for so many decades.
I really enjoyed watching Cutie and the Boxer, I definitely feel that I have take something away from the film. I feel that I can appreciate the work of artists more. This is an excellent documentary for those interested in the arts or just people just looking for a real-life love story.