Review: Oscar Documentary Challenge Entry #1- Cutie and the Boxer

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I have watched the first of the four Academy Award nominated documentaries available on Netflix streaming (see my previous post). Cutie and the Boxer tells the story of the Bronx-based Japanese artist Ushio Shinohara, and his long-suffering wife, Noriko, who is an artist in her own right. I watched it first because it’s the shortest of the five nominated documentaries, clocking in at 82 minutes. It’s a fairly interesting and well done documentary, but left me wanting a bit more.

It’s a bit difficult for me to discuss films without feeling I’m spoiling the experience for someone who has yet to watch it. At 82 minutes then, I can’t make this review that long. I can say that it’s a pleasure to watch documentaries these days and not feel like your watching an inferior film when it comes to picture quality and cinematography. This film looks great, with director Zachary Heinzerling taking small snippets of the film to show the surrounding city. Shots of the nearby bridge are reminiscent of Woody Allen’s Manhattan. Technology is a good thing when a huge budget is not needed to make a movie look pleasing to the eye.

Getting back to the story, Ushio is “the” artist in the family, the one that has received the most attention. But frankly, he’s a bit of a mess. The series of paintings he’s getting attention for at the beginning of the film to me are nothing more than a gimmick- he uses boxing gloves covered with paint and punches a large canvas. His agent describes them as “visceral” and “without thought,” to which I say “Yeah, so?” I’m not sure what he is trying to say with those paintings, and it looks like Ushio doesn’t either. I did like his sculptures, which he seems to treat as an afterthought, or as a way to get some cash to pay their past due rent. It’s scary how he shoves them into a suitcase on a trip to Japan. Later on, he tries to branch out and do a different kind of painting. As a viewer of the movie, (and if you’re not completely unfamiliar with what makes “good” art), his wife Noriko summed up my thought on this particular attempt: “This is not very good,” she tells him.

His wife, “Cutie,” has the soul of an artist, yet has put herself and her ambitions on the backburner for most of their relationship. Ushio is like an artist who never really matures and grows, but the real treat of the movie is watching Cutie’s artwork come to life. Whereas even Ushio’s best work in my opinion never really makes you feel something, Cutie’s artwork has a real heart and soul to it. She is the star of the film.

As far as a criticism goes for the documentary itself, I don’t feel it showed enough of her artwork, and because the couple are very Japanese, a lot of things are left unsaid, and I wanted to feel things a little bit more from someone. The only source of feeling and emotion in the film came from Noriko’s artwork, which there is not enough of, as I said before. And frankly, I’m not sure why there isn’t more of her artwork in the film. Had she just started doing the work that was shown? Who knows? Another underdeveloped part of the film revolves around their son. You get enough of him and about him to get a sense of who he is and what his issues are (he too is an artist, and probably makes the father the third best artist in the family), but you don’t really hear anything from him.

So, my IMDB rating would be 7 out of 10, Netflix rating 3 out of 5. So out of two films nominated in this category, 20 Feet from Stardom is still my choice for Best Documentary of 2013.

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One thought on “Review: Oscar Documentary Challenge Entry #1- Cutie and the Boxer

  1. Good review Aaron. I didn’t love this documentary, but what we get to see of these two is really wonderful to watch. However, it’s also very sad in how their past definitely has some serious consequences, mainly with their son.

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