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
Welcome to NYWIFT, Gaelin Rosenwaks! Gaelin is a multitalented scientist, explorer, photographer, filmmaker, and author of Sperm Whales: The Gentle Goliaths of the Oceans. She founded Global Ocean Exploration Inc. in response to alarming changes to our oceans. Her aptitude for science and storytelling brought her on a journey that spans from appearing as an expert and host on many TV networks to being one of the few women featured on the cover of Outside Magazine. She is currently working on Finding Physty, a documentary about sperm whales. Gaelin shares more about her fascinating journey here!READ MORE
Meet NYWIFT Member Yolanda Gibson! Yolanda Gibson is an online entertainment writer and documentarian originally from Detroit, Michigan. She has a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Political Science from Michigan State and Illinois State University respectively. She began writing for online entertainment publications in 2010 in Atlanta, GA. Through writing she has been given the opportunity to conduct red carpet interviews for some of the biggest events and names in the industry such as the Tribeca Film Festival, BET Hip Hop Awards and the Soul Train Music Awards. Gibson has been a member of NYWIFT since 2019. She attended our NYWIFT Night Out networking mixer with the Telly Awards at Neuehouse Madison Square in March 2023, where Telly Awards reps encouraged her to submit her projects for consideration. This Summer, she won a 2023 Bronze Telly Award in the Online Documentary Long Form (over 40 minutes) category for her documentary Wisdom from the Brooklyn Bridge, which follows her Covid-19 weight loss journey as she walks through political and social protests in New York City. Yolanda spoke to us about her documentary, the award, and her future projects.READ MORE
Welcome to NYWIFT, Oyiza Adaba! Oyiza is a Nigerian journalist and producer with over 20 years of experience both on and behind the camera in several multimedia productions. In 2008, she founded Africa-Related, a media and content development company operating in Lagos, Nigeria and New York City. Africa-Related is at the forefront of storytelling from an African perspective, using media platforms to enrich knowledge of the world. In 2019, she founded Ita’i: Our Cloth, a global brand that takes a modern approach to preserving, presenting, and promoting Africa’s cultural heritage. Ita’i encourages community development and empowerment with existing resources. Oyiza tells us about her dedication to community empowerment and her upcoming projects.READ MORE
Let’s give a warm NYWIFT welcome to Cameron Kit! Cameron is an award-winning feminist sci-fi director living in Brooklyn whose short film Chlorine was a big hit at multiple film festivals and won “Best Cinematography” at NYCA. Altogether, Cameron’s projects have been featured at 30+ film festivals across the U.S. and Japan. From 2013 until recently, Cameron was the CEO and Artistic Director at Whiteboard Geeks in Richmond, VA. As her website highlights, Cameron’s overarching goal is to “join in the development of an art that will contribute to a world in which women, people of color, and queer folks are respected as equal citizens on Planet Earth.” To learn more about Cameron, check out her interview as we discuss the triumphs and setbacks that come with leading an animation studio, her ongoing Sci-Fi podcast They Came from Outer Space, the unyielding longevity of radio, how to make the most of your NYWIFT membership, and the magic that becomes possible when pairing feminism with science fiction!READ MORE