Why don’t more people know about Zachary Heinzerling’s remarkable, delicately moving documentary film from 2013?
Cutie (Noriko ) met The Boxer (Ushio Shinohara) when he was forty one and she was just nineteen
Shinohara was already an established presence in the New York avant-garde art scene of the sixties, with his action paintings, where he battered the canvas with paint covered boxing gloves, and his odd junk sculptures (even if he was admired more than collected).
Meanwhile, Noriko was a gauche young art student, fresh off the boat from Japan and looking for inspiration.
Over forty years later, with an adult son and through many financial hardships, they’re still together, and Noriko’s semi-autobiographical comic strip series, Cutie and Bullie (guess who the latter is) is being exhibited alongside her husband, much to his amusement/slow acceptance.
Long- suffering, introverted and elegant Noriko is presented initially as the classic empath and muse: quiet; ignored in one heartbreaking scene at her grandiose husband’s exhibition, somewhat pushed aside.
Halfway through, though, the whole tone shifts, as she speaks of putting a cork on Ushio’s alcoholism, stating simply to a buyer from the Guggenheim, ‘He was told he couldn’t breathe anymore’. The steel and resilience in her eyes is revealed, and it’s apparent who is keeping the marriage anchored. It’s Cutie’s story all the way.
When Ushio jabs at her with a boorish, ‘I’m HUSBAND’, she scoffs, ‘Ha. You’re so pitiful… He needs me. He can’t even read the Subway map!’
Round three, and the gloves are finally off, showing the humour and tenderness that’s the real secret to their longevity.
The camera, intimately but never obtrusively, follows the couple from studio space to crawl space, to cherry blossom season in Japan. It’s these scenes of togetherness, juxtaposed with earlier scenes of their relationship, that are most moving, in a defiantly unsentimental but poignant film. They clearly adore one another, and fit together like … well… hand in boxing glove.