Cutie and the Boxer

August 12, 2013 0 By Fans
1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)


This candid New York love story explores the chaotic 40-year marriage of famed boxing painter Ushio Shinohara and his wife, Noriko. Anxious to shed her role as her overbearing husband's assistant, Noriko finds an identity of her own.

Release Year: 2013

Rating: 7.3/10 (147 voted)

Director: Zachary Heinzerling


This candid New York love story explores the chaotic 40-year marriage of famed boxing painter Ushio Shinohara and his wife, Noriko. Anxious to shed her role as her overbearing husband's assistant, Noriko finds an identity of her own.


Official Website:

Official Facebook

Official site

Release Date:

Technical Specs


User Review


Rating: 8/10

My full review:

I have come to a stage in life where I sometimes forget how old I am. I
find that when I think about my age I have to stop a second and recheck
my calculations. I'm pretty good at head math and remembering numbers
but I find this one doesn't quite stick.

I had an opportunity to attend the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and see
Cutie and the Boxer, a documentary film by Zachary Heinzerling about
Ushio and Noriko Shinohara, an aging Japanese married couple – both
artists – living in New York City. As I've reflected on the film one of
the most prominent thoughts that surfaces is age.

Age is perhaps our most defining physical characteristic. Maybe even
more than race. And just like race and ethnicity, the physical cues
that point to age can be misleading. It's easy to judge someone based
on how old we think they are. We look at someone and we can make a
guess. As we get older some people define themselves less by their age
and focus more on the way they feel. Maybe that's why I can't remember
my age that well. That or I'm just getting older. In Cutie and the
Boxer we see first an older couple, and then throughout the film we see
more of who they really are and how they see themselves.

Zachary Heinzerling's documentary Cutie and the Boxer is not a film
primarily about age, although it invokes thoughts about aging. It's a
film about the relationship between a husband and a wife and the
sacrifices it takes to dedicate your life to someone else. Back when
they first met, Ushio was already a prominent avant garde artist,
having made an impact in Japan and rubbing shoulders with people like
Andy Warhol in New York. He was most famous for his boxing paintings.
To create these pieces of art Ushio dresses himself up very much like a
boxer, including strapping on boxing gloves with sponges dipped in
paint. He then energetically punches a large canvas as he moves from
right to left. The experience of creating these paintings, which takes
only a couple of minutes, epitomizes who Ushio is and how he sees
himself as an artist. He appreciates characteristics like power,
energy, spontaneity, and movement. Also famous for his motorcycle and
dinosaur sculptures, he likes to name his exhibits with words like
"Vroom!!" and "Roaarrr!"

According to her own story, Noriko was a young and eager artist fresh
off the boat. She met Ushio, over 20 years her senior, and quickly
entwined her life with his, giving up her own aspirations as an artist
in the process. Jump forward after a child and 39 years of marriage and
we them first as any other couple, with their quirks and recurring
arguments. We quickly realize that Noriko set a precedence very early
on in their relationship by making significant sacrifices in her
lifestyle to accommodate Ushio and his needs. Now, after four decades
together, she's undergoing a retrospective of her life and breaking out
as the artist she always meant to be. Ushio's career seems to be
gaining new momentum as well.

The film follows from there, laying out small but defining interactions
between Ushio and Noriko over a two-year period. Beautifully filmed and
beautifully portrayed, it splices in principal photography, archive
footage covering multiple periods of their life, and the fantastical
world of each of their art – especially the animation of Cutie's world.
The animation is based on Noriko's comic about Cutie and the Bullie,
her caricatured interpretation of herself and Ushio.

During the Q&A the director was asked why he decided to call the film
Cutie and the Boxer when Noriko's comic named them Cutie and the
Bullie. He answered that it just sounded better to him. I think the
better answer – which he probably could've answered – is that it
reflects the identity each of the characters would give themselves,
even though neither is completely accurate. It's how they see their
idealized selves. Noriko envisions herself as Cutie, the independent
female artist able to overcome and tame her love-needy but headstrong
husband. Ushio sees himself as the prize fighter and artistic genius of
the family, his boxing paintings as a symbol of his power and art and
therefore his dominance in their relationship. The reality of how each
of these identities has manifested over the years is the result we see
on the screen.

It's true that at first glance the film can seem to portray Ushio as
uncaring, prideful, and jealous. It's an example of one of those
relationships where the woman, due to the man's negligence and denial,
has to take over the practical functioning of the family. But
Heinzerling also hinted at something that the movie subtly tells you as
you watch: that Ushio is a good and dedicated man and that he and
Noriko have come to an unspoken arrangement. Ushio has a vibrant and
open personality and is honest, but his love is need-based. And,
although she has struggled with it for their 40+ years together, Noriko
is OK with that. She might even be willing to do it all again.