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Sunday, August 4, 2013


Ushio (left) and Noriko (right) Shinohara at the Rooftop Film Series screening of Cutie and the Boxer
Photo credit: Joshua Handler
2013, 82 minutes
Rated R for nude art images

Review by Joshua Handler

NOTE: For the record, I am not getting paid by Rooftop Films to write this.  I honestly believe in their film series and love attending their screenings.  I was able to review this film through the Rooftop Films Summer 2013 Series, which features early screenings of hot new independent films straight from the early year festival circuit.  This screening was held on the rooftop of the Old American Can Factory in Gowanus, Brooklyn and featured an intro and Q&A with the cast and crew.  Tickets for the upcoming films can be purchased here.  It is a truly unique film series.  Their events make for a great, and cheap at $13, night out in NYC.  There was an after-party with free drinks served that I did not attend.  Please support Rooftop Films and go to their events.  They are among the best film events in NYC.  

Zachary Heinzerling's exquisite documentary Cutie and the Boxer is one of a kind.  It won the Sundance Film Festival's Documentary Directing Award and deservingly so.  Cutie and the Boxer follows the lives of Ushio and Noriko Shinohara, two Brooklyn-based Japanese-born artists.  Ushio is a recovered alcoholic and is known for his cardboard sculptures and boxing painting in which he puts on boxing gloves, puts paint on them, then punches a large canvas to create a painting.  Noriko is a more traditional artist, focusing on painting and creating comic-like works featuring the characters Cutie and Bullie, based off of Ushio and herself.  The film focuses on their rocky, yet loving, relationship and is told in a fairy tale-like manner.  However it is very honest.

Ushio and Noriko are two of the greatest documentary subjects someone could ever find because they are odd, fascinating, yet endearing.  For Cutie and the Boxer, they really allowed everything to be filmed, good and bad, and this makes the movie so much richer.  Heinzerling is unobtrusive and he just lets everything happen.  He captured some truly beautiful moments of emotion that betray that which Ushio and Noriko sometimes try to keep hidden: love.

Cutie and the Boxer is a true pleasure to watch.  It is a piece of entertainment that also functions as a meditation on art.  Ushio and Noriko are not rich.  They have sacrificed fame and wealth and a lot more for their art and they discuss the effects that that has had on their lives and their son's life.  

Heinzerling and the Shinoharas were at the Rooftop Film Series screening of the film last night.  Heinzerling said that the "film brought out conversations that [the Shinoharas] wouldn't have had otherwise."  He is completely correct.  When making a documentary and people know that they're on camera, they tend to talk more.  When the Shinoharas talked about themselves and their marriage, much came out that no one could have ever expected.  Ushio said, "When Zach started shooting, I thought this film was all about me.  I put all of my effort into acting.  When I saw the final cut, I was very shocked."  Ushio believes himself superior to Noriko and this attitude is captured perfectly in the previous quote.  Ushio also said that the movie "turned out to be something [he] hates: a love story."  Noriko said that she's Zach's character in the movie and that everything looks too beautiful, as their lives are more miserable than what is portrayed.

Overall, Cutie and the Boxer is a beautiful film about two beautiful people.  It will certainly play well with audiences.  Parents should know that the R rating should be a mild PG.  Bring your teens to this one.  It's for everyone, but kids younger than 12 or 13 will likely not comprehend the full beauty of the film.  I have now seen Cutie and the Boxer twice and it was even better the second time.  It's a gem.


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