Dinner and Movie with VAFF: Cutie and the Boxer Reviewed
By Imelda Nurwisah, VAFF Executive Member
Every month, VAFF hopes to give you an intimate introduction to films and events in the community. Through reviews, filmmaker interviews, and sharing our conversations over coffee, we hope to spark your interest in some of the amazing films and filmmakers in Vancouver today.
It was a pleasure to be supporting our friends at Reel Causes and Tonari Gumi for the screening of Cutie and the Boxer at the SFU Woodward’s Theatre. As David Iwaasa, Executive Director of Tonari Gumi noted, the film was about a pair of feisty seniors who were not unlike the Japanese elders he and the Tonari Gumi organization help everyday. The film was recently nominated at the Oscars for Best Documentary and I was excited to see the 82 minute piece with the eccentric title and intriguing trailer.
The documentary showed how the most fiery of emotions and passions subdued as they are by life, time and age, can never be fully extinguished. Pulling no punches, the anguishing trajectory of New York-based Japanese art duo, Oshio and Noriko Shinohara, are laid bare by Director Zachary Heinzerling. In his feature length film debut, Heinzerling does an incredible job of capturing the most mundane and vulnerable moments of Oshio and Noriko’s lives.
Using scenes from their lives in current day, clips from old home videos, and animations of Noriko’s manga-style paintings, the story of Oshio and Noriko (a.k.a. Cutie and Bullie) is retold. Leaving Japan for New York City at the impressionable age of 19, Noriko is ravished by the bigger-than-life Oshio, whose work and personality are completely new and invigorating to the fine arts student. The couple seem to be an artistic powerhouse, the avant-garde rebel painter with his ingénue protégé (20 years his junior) by his side.
However this is merely a flashback and the glamorous image of the artist and the elevated semiotics of the art world have already been stripped away for the audience. Debt, alcoholism, and family responsibilities catch up with the young couple. The crumbling of their dreams is painful to watch.
Yet, the indomitable Oshio is as energetic and indestructible as a cockroach. At the age of 80 he still creates his famous “action-paintings” with a pair of boxing gloves, extra-large sponges, and vibrant paints. And in her own silent but resolute way, Noriko has crafted a voice and response to her husband’s defiance to normalcy that has caused her so much pain.
Watching this film as a young Asian woman living in the relatively multicultural and progressive society of urban Canada, various aspects of the film caught my attention: the marital dynamics of the Shinoharas, their expression of Japanese gender norms within America, and overlaying all that was their artistic rivalry. How did they survive one another and the highly curated art world that fed off of and was so utterly detached from the artists themselves?
Watching the transformation of the two artists, especially of Noriko Shinohara, is utterly captivating and akin to watching a cloudy sky unexpectedly become ablaze with orange and pink as dusk sets in. If you enjoy stories of triumph, beauty in the everyday, and a friendly fist fight I would highly recommend this film.