by Drew Martin
I watched Cutie and the Boxer today, which is a wonderful documentary about the 80-year-old action painter Ushio Shinohara, and his 57-year wife Noriko, who draws and paints cartoons about their 40-year marriage dominated by his big art and drunkenness that gives them a name in the art world but leaves them broke and frustrated.
In footage from an earlier time, Ushio breaks down crying to his drinking buddies and wails "This is so hard, and it's so fantastic. Now I've got nothing."
Noriko is a calm, patient wife who tries to distance herself from her punkish senior. She has a mildness to her that brings stability to their relationship but also causes her a lot of pain because it is a weakness that yields to her husband's belligerence. Their relationship is complicated but you cannot imagine one without the other. The person most affected by their mess is not Noriko, but their middle-aged son Alex who seems to have inherited all of his father's alcoholism but none of his charisma.
While, like a lot of art documentaries such as Marwencol, Meet the Fokkens, and Naked States, this documentary concludes with a redemptive art show and increased recognition, it is the final slow motion sequence of Noriko pounding Ushio with his trade-mark paint-loaded boxing gloves that won my smile at the end.