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"Cutie and the Boxer" Synopsis

"Cutie and the Boxer" is an intimate, observational documentary chronicling the unique love story between Ushio and Noriko Shinohara, married Japanese artists living in New York. Bound by years of quiet resentment, disappointments and missed professional opportunities, they are locked in a hard, dependent love.

The film begins in Brooklyn, where the couple struggles to manage their creeping poverty. Examining each artist’s complicated history, the film reveals the roots of their relationship. Ushio Shinohara achieved notoriety in postwar Japan for his avant-garde “boxing” paintings, and in 1969 set out for New York City in search of international recognition. Three years later, at age 19, Noriko left Japan to study art in New York and was instantly captivated by the middle-aged Ushio. She abandoned her education and her wealthy family’s support to become the wife of an unruly, alcoholic husband and, a year later, mother of their only son, Alex.

Their 40-year marriage has left Ushio and Noriko in distinct spaces. At 80, Ushio continues to obsessively pursue the painting and sculpture he crafted half a century ago. Coming off a recent, poorly received show in which he sold no work, he’s become increasingly desperate to establish his legacy in the final years of his life. Meanwhile, Noriko, 59, their son fully grown and husband now sober, is at last coming into her own. With a renewed passion for art, she throws herself into illustration with her “Cutie” series, which viscerally and humorously depicts her challenging past with Ushio. Through “Cutie,” she channels the unpleasant aspects of her life into a body of paintings and drawings steeped in a colorful explosion of woman power, sensuality, and fantasy that acts as a counterbalance to the reality of Ushio. The film leads to a joint exhibition offered to both artists, providing Noriko with a long-awaited opportunity to show her new work to the public. The two work—together and apart—to prepare for the installation.

Through present-day vérité scenes, archival footage and animated sequences of Noriko’s drawings, the documentary brings us to understand that the stark differences in the Shinoharas’ art and personalities are the basis for a deep and challenging symbiosis, one rooted in a vital creative spirit.

At its core, "Cutie and the Boxer" is a film that reveals painful universal truths about the life of the artist and how the creative process intersects with reality, identity and marriage.

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