Cutie and the Boxer: The Art of Sad Marriage, in One of the Best Films of the Year
The reasons this documentary will certainly end up in my top 10 films of this year: One, it contains just the right amount of visual poetry for the scope of its story, which concerns an old Japanese couple who live in New York City, have been married for 40 years, and, after all of this time in the art business, have failed to protect themselves from the threat of poverty.
Two, the history of the marriage (how it began, how it developed, what keeps it going today) is an excellent subject for a documentary. You never lose interest in the odd union between Ushio Shinohara—an artist who was a big deal in the Japanese avant-garde scene of the '60s, moved to New York in the early '70s, and ultimately failed to find big buyers for his boxing paintings (he punches a huge canvas with paint-soaked gloves)—and Noriko, an artist who moved to New York in her early 20s, met Ushio (a man twice her age), married him, and raised their child as he spent night after night drinking with friends, sticking his penis into champagne bottles, passing out under tables, punching canvases, and running out of money.
The third great thing about the film is this: Its hero turns out not to be the painter, Ushio (who is really not that talented), but the beauty, nobility, intelligence, grace, and secret artistic genius of Noriko. So you begin the film with the noise of Ushio (an 80-year-old man punching a canvas) and gradually shift toward the tranquility of Noriko. One of the film's most powerful moments is when she is alone, walking down Manhattan's High Line on a sunny day. It is then—as she sits on a bench, as the light falls on her timeless face, as the tall grass bends in the wind—that you understand that she has the deep inner life that Ushio as a person and as an artist completely lacks.