Cutie and the Boxer

On December 30, 2013 by Evan Senn

Artists are strange creatures. Creative, often narcissistic, selfish and expressive, yet these are the people we look to for inspiration and insight to live life more fully. Creativity is a blessing and a curse for those of us who feel the impulse to make things, to express ourselves in a visual way. It is no wonder that so many creatives find their romantic counterpart in other creatives. Most artist-couples can’t last–their personalities are too similar, the competition is too intense, the fight for success and support is too much of a battle for a couple to endure, sometimes. But when it’s good, it’s great. The passion, the fight, the struggle–it can be amazing. Few have become famous for their love, art and partnership, but Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollock, Noriko Shinohara and Ushio Shinohara–they’ve got it.


Cutie and the Boxer is a film by , and only having come out in November of 2013, it has already garnered much respect in the art world and in the world of documentary film. Cutie and the Boxer has won the Charles E. Guggenheim Emerging Artist Award at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival (2013), the Directing Award at Sundance Film Festival (2013) and 2nd Place Audience Award at Tribeca Film Festival (2013).




Ushio Shinohara has been world renowned for his intense and esoteric action painting and crazy sculptures since the 1960s. Noriko, his wife, has acted as his assistant, caretaker, manager, lover, wife and partner for over 40 years, and her frustration and struggle in her own career has been boiling under the surface for years. An artist in her own right, Noriko expresses her own angst and passion in her autobiographical stories and drawings of “Cutie,” a reimagination of herself, and “Bullie,” her selfish and crazed husband (a version of Ushio).



“The film is a moving portrait of a couple wrestling with the universal themes of sacrifice, disappointment, aging, and love against the background of lives dedicated to art.  Through candid scenes we come to understand that the stark differences in the Shinoharas’ art and personalities are the basis for a deep and challenging symbiosis that has kept the couple together for nearly 40 years.The film shifts back and forth between present-day verite footage of their life in Brooklyn and a stylized version of the past, blending archival material and the artists’ own illustrations, blurring the lines between life and art.”

This film is  a great portrait of these hard working, innovative and intense artists. Beautifully shot, and expertly edited, the film is only a mere slice of their awesome existence and amazing world, but gives us so much insight into the lives of these artists, it’s breathtaking.

Living in New York, but both from Japan, they live a humble life in a giant warehouse loft. Their world is full of bright, messy, colorful creations and they are both constantly creating, even in their old age–Ushio is 80 years old, Noriko is 61. Noriko’s artwork is monochromatic and figurative, it visually references storybook illustrations with a still and calm energy that seems to juxtapose against the intimate and tumultuous content of her narratives. Ushio’s work is wild, bright and adventurous. It seems to constantly revolve around the ideas of energy and fantastical imagination, a bit separated from the maker. Though their styles are so very different, the Shinoharas’ partnership is a playful and combative one; occasionally helping each other grow and prosper, occasionally battling one another with all they’ve got.


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