NYWIFT Blog

Oscar Madness: Cutie and the Boxer

image

Noriko and Ushio Shinohara in Cutie and the Boxer (Photo via The Guardian)

Love is a ROARRRR. In the documentary Cutie and the Boxer, this is the name of the first joint show by the film’s subjects, Japanese artist couple Ushio and Noriko Shinohara. It doubles as a fitting title for their four decades-long relationship, explored in Cutie through interviews, historical and home video footage, and animated versions of Noriko’s (the quieter and supposedly “average” wife to husband Ushio’s scrappy, boxing-painter “genius”) watercolor project, Cutie. Director Matthew Heinzerling says it was upon discovering Cutie, a collection of work inspired by the bitter times in Noriko and Ushio’s marriage, that he realized the film had the legs to be a feature, as originally it began as a short “day in the life” project.

The film is shot and edited wonderfully—Heinzerling’s approach captures the couple’s glut of struggles with art dealers, an alcoholic son and the pressure of creative production—without reducing their vitality and nuanced relationship. Ushio, who received notoriety upon arrival to the 1960s’ avant garde New York art scene, admirably sustains decades of visceral, sinewy creation, only to break down in tears when meditating on art-as-inner-demon. Noriko proclaims the value of “a room of her own” in producing her sensual works while recalling the endurance of their shared passions. At one point, we see the two subjects through each other’s eyes—in Noriko’s artwork depicting “Bullie” and in videos shot by Ushio, of Noriko taking in a summer breeze.

Noriko and Ushio are clearly opposites, but are they at odds or complementary to each other? What is lost or gained by choosing love and sacrifice versus independence and success? As an artist and feminist, I had an instinctual response during the film: wanting Noriko to receive her due, etc. However, by its end, I was buoyed by a more complex understanding of sharing, and yet competing over, one’s passions with a partner. Such questions take up much space in conversations regarding women and professional success; it is refreshing here not to see it all reduced to simplistic archetypes.

In many ways, Cutie’s trajectory bears striking similarity to the couple’s own artistic one. The film premiered at Sundance last year, earning critical praise and additional slots on the festival circuit. It then floundered, failing to obtain distribution in more than a handful of theaters. Good things can come late: after earning an Oscar nomination in December, the charismatic film quickly picked up attention, including the spirited support of many arts organizations.

This past week, Cutie screened at BRIC Arts in Brooklyn and at a NYWIFT event at the Tribeca Film Institute. Both screenings had lively Q&As. At the Tribeca session, Debra Zimmerman, Executive Director of Women Make Movies, moderated the event with the film’s producer and NYWIFT member Lydia Dean Pilcher. Zimmerman asked Pilcher what drew her to the project, pointing out that Pilcher is known for producing feature length narrative films, not documentaries. Pilcher pressed her hand to her chest as she recalled the first time she saw Heinzerling’s footage, “You just know inside when you want to be part of something.”

For the most part, the Shinoharas seem to take the acclaim in stride. During the BRIC Q&A, the conversation wandered over to their son, Alex. “He is doing very well,” Noriko said, “He is creating art.” She tells the audience about a pair of sneakers that he recently finished customizing just for her. “Maybe,” she adds, “I will wear them to the Oscars.”

— JOYCE CHOI LI

PUBLISHED BY

nywift

nywift New York Women in Film & Television supports women calling the shots in film, television and digital media.

View all posts by nywift

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

*

*

*

Related Posts

NYWIFT @ Tribeca: In Conversation with Producer Steffie van Rhee

Cynthia Lowen’s latest documentary "Battleground" offers an eye-opening window into the anti-choice movement, featuring three women from varying walks of life who have dedicated themselves to rendering abortion illegal. Per the Tribeca website: “Told with restraint and balance, director Cynthia Lowen seeks to clarify rather than condemn, and presents a new point of entry for this challenging topic.” While the film itself clearly aligns with progressive pro-choice advocates (who also appear throughout) it offers a fascinating perspective on the sheer systemic power of the anti-abortion movement and the perilous future, felt painfully today, of Roe v. Wade. "Battleground" was Executive Produced by NYWIFT member Ruth Ann Harnisch and co-produced by member Steffie van Rhee, who sat down with us to discuss the premiere and how this film – from this particular perspective – came to fruition.

READ MORE

NYWIFT @ Tribeca: In Conversation with Filmmaker Violet Du Feng

Violet Du Feng’s "Hidden Letters" tells the story of Chinese women trying to balance their lives as independent women in modern China while confronting the traditional identity that defines but also oppresses them. Connected through their love for Nushu—a centuries-old secret text shared amongst women—each of them transforms through a pivotal period of their lives and takes a step closer to becoming the individuals they know they can be. Hot off her 2022 Tribeca Festival premiere, Director Violet Du Feng, an Emmy-award winning documentarian, spoke to us about Nushu, modern-day China, women’s equality, and her filmmaking process.

READ MORE

NYWIFT @ Tribeca: In Conversation with Festival Director Cara Cusumano

We kick off our Tribeca coverage with a conversation with Cara Cusumano, Festival Director and VP of Programming! Cara previews exciting changes to this year's festival - including a new name! - as well as some special appearances and events.

READ MORE

NYWIFT at Sundance: Spotlight on Paula Eiselt

An alarmingly disproportionate number of Black women are failed every year by the U.S. maternal health system – and it is a crisis that has been largely ignored thus far. In the Sundance 2022 documentary Aftershock, Directors Paula Eiselt and Tonya Lewis Lee follow the bereaved partners of two of these women as they fight for justice and build communities of support, bonding especially with other surviving Black fathers. The story is presented within the historical context of racism throughout the U.S. healthcare system, and the deadly tendency to ignore or minimize Black women’s pain and concerns.

NYWIFT Member Paula Eiselt spoke to us about how she and Lewis Lee approached this harrowing topic, and why community activists are the natural heroes of her creative work.  

READ MORE
JOIN OUR NEWSLETTER
css.php