Cutie and the Boxer paints its canvas on Blu-ray in an edition that offers a solid presentation of the documentary and several choice special features to go with it. The film covers the relationship between Japanese avant-garde artist Ushio Shinohara and his wife Noriko, as they celebrate Ushio’s 80th birthday and each create their own artistic works in a loft in New York City. There are some really interesting ideas going on below the surface of what seems to be a simple depiction of an older couple at a new stage in their life and relationship with each other. Most crucially, the movie puts a lot of focus on Noriko’s creation “Cutie and Bullie”, which is a comic-strip reenactment of the history of the Shinoharas’ life together. Like any good painting, Cutie and the Boxer reveals more layers and more ideas the closer you examine it. For that reason, it is Recommended for purchase or rental. (Readers should be advised that it is one of this year’s nominees for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, in addition to having one multiple Festival awards during 2013.)
Studio: Anchor Bay
Distributed By: Starz
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Run Time: 1 Hr. 22 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 02/04/2014
Cutie and the Boxer is an interesting achievement of a documentary. On the surface, it appears to be a simple presentation of the lives of an avant-garde Japanese artist and his wife. In reality, it’s just as much of a collage of found material as can be found in the works of Ushio Shinohara himself. That’s not meant as a criticism – on the contrary, I would argue that director Zachary Heinzerling has found an effective way to bring these artists to the screen: He’s presented their art as their life, and their life as art.
The Production Rating: 3.5/5
Ushio Shinohara is a sculptor and painter who regularly works with “found” objects to create items like his giant motorcycle sculptures. He is also an expressive action painter who uses boxing gloves and paint to generate abstract color compositions. He’s been in New York since 1969 and recently turned 80, still experimenting and pushing the limits of modern art. He and his wife Noriko met in 1969, at which time she was only 19 and he was 41. She was a young artist, but agreed to put her work on hold to marry him and become the mother of their son, Alex. Over the past 20 years, she’s returned to her artistic work, creating a comic-strip depiction of her life with Ushio titled “Cutie and Bullie”. This work has gotten enough attention that the Shinoharas wound up presenting their work together in 2010 at the HPGRP Gallery in New York. Fascinated by the couple, director Zachary Heinzerling spent a lot of time with Ushio and Noriko, filming them at their loft, at their artistic workspace, and at various gallery functions.
Due to the Shinoharas’ familiarity with Heinzerling, the footage in Cutie and the Boxer is candid and mostly straightforward. The viewer simply becomes another pair of eyes and ears in the Shinoharas’ personal space. Watching the couple deal with each other, and then watching them create their own artwork, there is a strong sense both of their mutual bond and an underlying tension. Noriko in particular expresses a tremendous level of frustration about Ushio and her life with him – through her art. The movie then takes her comic caricatures and animates them, bringing her compositions to a stronger form of two-dimensional life. The movie intercuts the animation and the live-action candid footage with earlier documentaries on Ushio, including material shot by Rod McCall in New York in the early 1970s. There’s also a fair amount of footage from some Japanese documentaries on Ushio, and at least one shockingly raw moment of a drunken Ushio from at least thirty years ago. Much of the conversations we hear are in Japanese with English subtitles. There’s a few moments where the Shinoharas are speaking English, but heavily accented and again, subtitled. Buttressing this are a few moments of visual grandeur. One moment has Ushio swimming his regular laps, but with a high speed camera catching him in a slow-motion, solid blue world that would seem to fit right in with some of his own abstract compositions. The film ends with another slow-motion moment, where the Shinoharas engage in an artistic boxing match, the results of which can be seen on the cover of this Blu-ray. Taken together, the various strands build up a picture of the Shinoharas’ world – unapologetic, candid and, to use the filmmakers’ word, chaotic.
This is not the kind of documentary that will likely appeal to casual viewers. It’s geared toward artists and people who are interested in art and creation. The movie does ramble at various points, and it’s pretty frank about the realities of a life in the avant-garde world. There’s a bit of animation along the way, but the real meat can be found in the candid footage of Ushio and Noriko talking, eating, creating, and simply living. Cutie and the Boxer is a bit of a journey, but if you’re willing to make the trip, the rewards are sublime. Appropriately, the movie has already been recognized at multiple Film Festivals in 2013 and is currently nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. As such, it is Recommended for purchase or rental.
Cutie and the Boxer was released on Blu-ray and standard definition today. The Blu-ray includes the documentary and a nice set of special features to go with it.
Cutie and the Boxer is presented in a 1080p AVC 1.85:1 transfer (@ an average 33 mbps). The transfer accurately reflects a low budget shoot and a variety of sources, ranging from Heinzerling’s usual cameras to a 5D in an underwater baggie to the older tape of the earlier documentaries. There are occasionally beautiful shots here and there – the swimming moment, the slow-motion boxing match at the end, but the rest of the imagery is intentionally plain. The animated comic strips are nicely rendered, but again, are not intended to be eye-popping.
Video Rating: 4/5 3D Rating: NA
Cutie and the Boxer is presented in a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix (@ an average 3.0 mbps), with some English and some Japanese presented with English subtitles. The mix is mostly in the front channels, but the surrounds do get some attention with the music by Yasuaki Shimizu. Of particular note with the music are the opening and closing songs, with the movie ending on a saxophone rendition of a familiar Bach Prelude.
Audio Rating: 4/5
The Blu-ray presentation of Cutie and the Boxer comes with about 20 minutes of special features, as well as 23 minutes of the Rod McCall documentary excerpted in the feature.
Special Features Rating: 3.5/5
Deleted Scenes – (9:26 Total, 1080p) – Five deleted or extended scenes are presented here. Most are simply an alternate assembly of footage seen elsewhere in the documentary. Some add further moments of candid footage at the Shinoharas’ loft.
Shinohara: The Last Artist, by Rod McCall – (23:17, 480p, 4x3) – Here we have over 20 minutes of Rod McCall’s piece from the early 1970s about Japanese expatriate artists living and working in New York. Some of this footage can be seen in the main feature.
Q&A at the Sundance Film Festival – (8:06, 1080p) – This is probably the most interesting of the special features. It’s a few minutes from the Q&A conducted after the movie’s premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2013. Zachary Heinzerling and the Shinoharas field various questions from the crowd, with Ushio mostly relying on a translator. Heinzerling describes the process of having spent over a year and a half making the documentary. The Shinoharas describe a situation in which privacy more or less went out the window. What’s really fascinating here is that each time Noriko makes a point, Ushio will grab the microphone to make HIS point, and then Noriko will continue her point, and then Ushio will usually want to get the mike back again…
Action is Art: A Study of Ushio Shinohara’s Boxing Painting – (3:39, 1080p) This is a slow-motion examination of Ushio Shinohara’s technique of painting with boxing gloves. The camera is set behind what appears to be Plexiglas, so that Ushio can punch directly at the camera and have the glove/brush impact on the plexi right in front of the lens. (Past the usefulness of the high speed camera here, I should note that this study led to the boxing/painting match seen in the feature’s closing moments. Since they had some time left on the day and had all the resources to do it, Heinzerling got the Shinoharas to agree to perform the boxing routine with the paints after this study was finished. The result is not only an interesting exercise but also the basis of the entire marketing campaign for the movie.)
Subtitles are available for the film in English and Spanish.
Cutie and the Boxer is a challenging documentary about a life spent in art. It may come to the viewer appearing to be a very simple presentation, but there’s a lot more going on than meets the eye at first. Director Zachary Heinzerling has created a collage of Ushio and Noriko Shinohara as artists and human beings that is fittingly as daring and unapologetic as they are. The Blu-ray presents the documentary in the best possible technical manner, with some well-thought special features added for good measure. This Blu-ray is Recommended for purchase or rental, particularly for viewers interested in the world of avant-garde art.
Overall Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewed By: Kevin EK
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