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Cutie and the Boxer

by Louise Adams
Monday Feb 10, 2014
Cutie and the Boxer

The 40-year marriage and lopsided artistic collaboration between a Japanese couple in New York is profiled in Zachary Heinzerling's gorgeous, poignant documentary "Cutie and the Boxer."

"Cutie" is the illustrated proxy of Noriko Shinohara, a 63-year-old artist who adopted the moniker when she was called that after she started wearing her long grey hair in pigtail braids, as revealed in the Blu-ray extra "Q&A at the Sundance Film Festival."

Interspersed among archival footage from Rod McCall's 1970s piece "Shinohara: The Last Artist" (included in full on the disc extras), Noriko is seen spending most of her life in the shadow of her pop-artist husband Ushio, "Gyu-Chan," who was initially a hit in Tokyo, painting large canvases with boxing gloves dipped in paint, or with his Mohawk. He moved to NYC in 1971, but his work didn't sell well. He met young art student Noriko, and the couple lived off her parents' monthly stipends until she quickly became pregnant with their son Alex.

Like Jackson Pollack and Lee Krasner’s, Noriko notes that artistic relationships are "like two flowers in one pot, but sometimes there’s not enough nutrients for both."

She tabled her career to raise the boy, juggle their bills and keep gadabout Ushio sober (only a sudden alcohol allergy stopped his drinking). "The average one has to support the genius," says Ushio (mostly in Japanese, with English subtitles) during the intimate, often quiet scenes filmed over about 18 months of their current lives.

Alex grew up, but also into alcoholism. Noriko returned to her brushes, citing Virginia Woolf's urging for a woman's "room of one's own," eventually line-painting the difficult history of Cutie and the Boxer in a literal room in a gallery, sharing the show "Love is a Roarrr" with her husband's vibrant canvases and cardboard motorcycle sculptures.

Like Jackson Pollack and Lee Krasner's, Noriko notes that artistic relationships are "like two flowers in one pot, but sometimes there's not enough nutrients for both." She has finally found her voice in doppelgänger Cutie, who "is dangerous and fights back," admonishing, "Don't bother my freedom" from the gallery wall. Noriko feels that opposites do attract, but it's "mainly my endurance" that has held together this relationship. She says, "Struggle is necessary for art."

"Cutie and the Boxer"

Louise Adams is a Chicago freelance writer at www.treefalls.com (and a nom de guerre).


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