The feature directorial debut of documentarian Zachary Heinzerling is a portrait of artists Ushio and Noriko Shinohara
, who met and married in 1970s New York after emigrating from Japan.
speaks of the constant struggle of being married to a man whose career and ego has long dominated hers.
That's thanks as much to his
powerful personality as the fact that she
own work on hold for many years while assisting her
husband in his
art-making and raising their son, Alex. (Alex, also a painter, is shown briefly in the film and seems to have a drinking problem of his
"I did the best I could," Noriko
says with a tone of heartbreakingly unsentimental self-awareness.)
"We are like two flowers in one pot," says Noriko
, explaining that sometimes one plant does not get enough nutrients.
At the same time, she
suggests, the act of sacrifice can be a beautiful thing.
Zachary Heinzerling's remarkable documentary debut is an unblinking look at the fierceness of artist Ushio Shinohara, his wife, Noriko, and their artistic and marital...
Zachary Heinzerling's remarkable documentary debut is an unblinking look at the fierceness of artist Ushio Shinohara, his wife, Noriko, and their artistic and marital journey.
The director wants us to understand Shinohara
is a fierce man.
An artist, Shinohara is known for his "boxing" technique, part of his action painting style that is arguably performance art by itself.
We see a demonstration, the boxing gloves dipped into, then dripping with paint, the man hurling himself at a huge canvas - punching, whirling, punching again and again, creating an explosion of imagery and color in real time.
body and the canvas are both streaked when he's
done, the man exhausted, the art vibrating with energy.
As riveting as Shinohara is, the filmmaker is only setting the groundwork for the real artist he is interested in - Noriko, Shinohara's wife of 40 years.
frenetic husband, Noriko
, 59, is the rock in the relationship, the lion tamer.
The lion keeper.
Cutting the fish for a meal, sorting through old canvases with Shinohara
for a display of his
work the Guggenheim is considering, worrying over the bills that pile up.
The tone shifts to footage of late nights and too much drink - Shinohara
It would lead to a very difficult alcohol-drenched stretch for the artist.
When the focus shifts to Noriko
is 19 and newly arrived in New York on a student visa.
quick absorption into Shinohara's
life, leads within a year to their marriage and a baby.
artistic dreams are soon overrun by taking care of Shinohara
and their son.
There is a telling shot of those early days, Noriko
artist smock, working on a canvas in a corner of the studio.
It is in plumbing the tension between his
dreams and hers that the film is at its most intriguing.
had only recently picked up the brush again when Heinzerling began filming.
But like Noriko
, you can't let Cutie's perky braids fool you.
is fierce as she
Heinzerling not only shows Noriko making art, he's
animated it, using it throughout the film to reveal the real contours of Noriko's journey.
At some point in the discussions with the gallery owner, Noriko
work, and the ground shifts once again.
Their years together supply a frame around the art, which properly occupies the foreground: Ushio's
abstract paintings and fantastical cardboard figures; Noriko's
ink-washed, cartoonlike drawings.
, along with their young son, Alex, hovers around the edges of the earlier film, and the home movies that supplement Mr. Heinzerling's observations of the present.
Ushio struggles for recognition (and beer money) while Noriko
hovers in the art-world shadows.
On its surface, this fly-on-the-wall documentary simply shines a spotlight on adorable husband and wife artists Ushio and Noriko Shinohara
, but filmmaker Zachary Heinzerling masterfully plumbs depths to give us a greater understanding of their marriage in relationship to the different art they create.
Initially, it seems that Ushio
's career will be the main emphasis of Cutie
And The Boxer, but slowly Heinzerling reveals his film to be a study of Ushio
, who is more than 20 years younger than Ushio and moved to New York dreaming of becoming an artist herself before falling in love with this charismatic, talented man. Over the course of the film's running time, we learn how Noriko's gift for charmingly low-key illustrated storytelling has been overwhelmed by Ushio's ambition, which intimidated her enough to give up on her dreams, instead becoming a wife and mother.
may have been more driven - not to mention problematic because of a bout with alcoholism - but Noriko
is hardly blameless, allowing her husband's desires to supersede her own.
"Art is a demon that drags you along," says 80-year-old visionary painter Ushio Shinohara in first-time director Zachary Heinzerling's delicate portrait "Cutie and the Boxer," but neither Shinohara nor his supportive wife and fellow artist Noriko are looking for a cure.
, a resident of New York's fine art scene since the late sixties, primarily indulges in a practice known as "box painting," an aggressive technique that finds him hurtling paint-covered gloves across a massive canvas, churning out loud, stream-of-conscious abstractions in under three minutes.
Heinzerling first shows us this phenomenal practice in an early long take that establishes the movie's engrossing style.
The filmmaker brings this world to life with a mixture of realism and vivid imagery.
Set to Yasuaki Shimizu's smooth jazz compositions, animations based off Noriko's drawings and subtle camerawork that explores the crevices of Shinohara
and Noriko's lives, "Cutie and the Boxer" uses each frame in expressive ways on par with its subjects' work.
Edited to accentuate the rhythms of the family's daily existence, the movie rests on small moments, from Noriko
bathing their cat to Shinohara
lugging a suitcase full of artwork to the subway.
Elsewhere, the very process of artistic creation comes alive with a cross-cutting strategy that shifts from close-ups of brushstrokes to Shinohara's
emotionally involved reactions.
Unlike Alex, however, Shinohara
can't get away with his
indolence under his
provides a candid guide to uphill battles with her
husband over the years.
"I was just following him," she says of their early years, in contrast to her current assertiveness, which turns "Cutie and the Boxer" into a soft-spoken survival tale.
"We are the ones suffering the most from art," Shinohara
tearfully confesses during one of his
Director Zachary Heinzerling's documentary follows the complicated 40-year marriage of New York-based Japanese artists Ushio Shinohara and his wife Noriko.
PARK CITY -- A good example of the maxim that opposites attract, Zachary Heinzerling's accomplished and entertaining documentary, Cutie
and the Boxer, presents the complicated 40-year marriage of New York-based Japanese artists Ushio Shinohara and his wife Noriko
With the timing of a comedy duo exchanging barbs, the macho, self-absorbed Ushio and the elegant, independent-minded Noriko
are delightful company in this intimate exploration of life and art.
Noriko was a 19-year-old art student when she fell in love with Ushio and abandoned her own work to become his assistant and caretaker.
Until recently a consummate alcoholic, Ushio
was a handful to manage.
is no pushover, and their sparring is entertaining and soulful.
Usiho accuses her
of never listening to him, and that's not far from the truth.
Behind Ushio's bravado, one senses a great tenderness and affection for his
What gives these lives form and content and makes them so interesting to watch is their dedication to their art and the creative process.
Working out of cluttered neighboring studios in Brooklyn, Ushio
freely admits that art is a demanding mistress, and Noriko
compares their co-existence to two flowers trying to grow in the same pot; the result can be heaven or hell.
The film started out to be portrait of Usiho, but several years ago, drawing on her
lifetime of frustration, Noriko
finally found her
voice in a series of humorous paintings accompanied by text explaining the trials of being married to an egotistical alcoholic.
"Cutie and the Bullie," as Noriko
work, resembles a large-scale graphic novel.
By will of her
personality and wit, to some extent, Noriko