Nate von Zumwalt
“You throw yourself away to be an artist,” says Ushio Shinohara in Cutie and the Boxer, the forceful documentary that follows the famous Japanese artist and his wife Noriko Shinohara over their 40-year relationship. The verity of that statement is reinforced throughout Zachary Heinzerling’s directorial debut, as Ushio risks abandonment, financial hardship, and other pitfalls in order to dedicate his life to his art—he specializes in an unconventional action painting technique called “boxing painting.”
Cutie observes the line between personal and professional relationships while presenting a charming—if not occasionally heartbreaking—portrait of complex lovers on an intricate life journey. But where Heinzerling’s dynamic filmmaking truly prospers is in its comprehensive storytelling. Cutie never panders to sentimentality and it refuses to operate with a selective memory, often depicting unflattering battles between the couple. Most notable is Noriko’s longstanding rancor toward Ushio’s artistry—or more appropriately, the disregard for her own work—and the latter’s bouts with alcoholism and financial insecurity.
- Cutie and the Boxer is nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 86th Academy Awards.
- Won Best Directing at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, where it premiered in U.S. Documentary Competition.
- Heinzerling does not speak Japanase and used a translator to conduct the interviews. “I think a lot of moments were more honest because they didn’t think we were studying their every word,” he has said.
- Screened at the first-ever NEXT WEEKEND film festival in August 2013.