Cutie and the Boxer Blu-ray Review
Art can build up but first it must destroy. We’ve all heard tales of the ‘starving artists’ who live for nothing but their work, but few could be found as dedicated to these principles as the Shinoharas, Ushio and Noriko (and their son Alex). The famed boxing painter, his wife, and their tumultuous relationship/partnership and history are the focal point of a beautifully crafted documentary, nominated for an academy award for Best Documentary Feature, CUTIE AND THE BOXER. I had never heard of the boxing painter before but I can honestly say after viewing this film I couldn’t be happier to know about him and his amazing wife now and I hope I have an opportunity to get some of this amazing artwork at some point in my future.
Ushio Shinohara came to the United States from Tokyo, Japan in 1965, intending to stay for a short while. But after finding out he loved the city and the freedom of American culture he decided to stay. Already 32 when he arrived, he didn’t meet his future bride until 9 years later, when he was 41 and she was only 19 years old. Dedicated to art it appears their relationship was originally established based on their shared principle that it is the artist’s responsibility to give everything to their work… well, that and the fact that Ushio was able to get some money out of Noriko during those first few years to help support both of their work and his drinking habit (she was being sent money from her family at the time).
I don’t want to make Ushio sound like a dirtbag, though I think you might come to that conclusion on your own upon viewing this film… like many movies and great characters, though, the truth of Ushio is not so easily described. At once a tortured genius, a horrific alcoholic, a husband, a father our ‘Boxer’ always seems to have a surprise up his sleeve. Even though you might worry for Noriko and feel bad for his family, CUTIE AND THE BOXER actually does a great job of showing the duality that is so difficult to capture in many artists. What’s more, the movie really focuses on the artistic prowess of the entire family, spending a great deal of time following Noriko on her own journey. This includes the animation of some of her artwork, which is honestly some of the best stuff I’ve seen on a movie in a long time.
CUTIE AND THE BOXER, though a documentary, is presented in such a way as to preserve a definitive feeling of a narrative feature. The filmmakers make excellent use of long, close shots from a near fish-eye lens that gives the film an otherworldly, almost eerie feel while bringing out detail you would never notice in everyday life. The winner of several directing awards, viewing CUTIE AND THE BOXER is almost a master class in directing… which makes the editing and pacing of the movie (which are very much dictated by a documentary director) incredibly disappointing.
At times disjointed and plodding, the narrative comes to a near-halt at several points. Perhaps the filmmakers couldn’t decide how they felt about the Shinoharas? Or perhaps they were just sitting on too much material. That’s really the key problem with CUTIE AND THE BOXER, but for a movie with only a few faults I’m ready to overlook it and I think you will be as well. This is a great documentary and a pretty darn good movie. I recommend it to anyone who is a fan of the genre or a fan of art.
CUTIE AND THE BOXER BLU-RAY REVIEW
Video: (1080p Widescreen 1.85:1) CUTIE AND THE BOXER is beautifully presented with a phenomenal digital transfer that is a wonder to behold. It is immersive while being surreal and presents some of my favorite images from the past decade of film. My one complaint, however, is that the subtitles are presented in white and often it is incredibly difficult to read because they blend in so well with the background.
Audio: (English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1) The audio for CUTIE AND THE BOXER is also beautifully arranged and presented though at times the ethereal soundtrack (which works well with the imagery, most of the time) is honestly a little disconcerting and pulls you out of this otherwise expertly crafted film.
Deleted Scenes (09:26) CUTIE AND THE BOXER is paced pretty well though it gets caught up in a moment, or in a visual of something that can make it feel rather plodding at times. The addition of these scenes would have slowed the pace of the film but they certainly show a few more interesting facets of the Shinohara’s life together. If you enjoy the movie I recommend checking them out. Included are the following scenes: Daily Routines, “I Don’t Look Back”, In the Swimming Pool, The Fish, Sleeping Arrangements
Shinohara: The Last Artist by Rod McCall (23:17) A documentary short-subject focusing on Ushio Shinohara’s earlier years is presented on the Blu-ray for CUTIE AND THE BOXER. Some of this footage is actually featured in CUTIE AND THE BOXER (sans the voice-over translation), which provides interesting context for these lives as presented here.
Q&A at the Sundance Film Festival (08:06) A selection from the Q&A for CUTIE AND THE BOXER is included here, perhaps the most entertaining questions? This is a really interesting feature and I would have liked to see more or an uncut version of the Q&A, but I still appreciate it being included.
Action is Art: A Study of Ushio Shinohara’s Boxing Painting (03:39) For as much as I enjoyed the movie, this feels a little bit pretentious and, as beautiful as the images are in CUTIE AND THE BOXER, I just didn’t get this show motion capture of the preparation and painting process.