'Cutie and the Boxer' showcases one artistic couple's functional dysfunction
Meanwhile Noriko, who one senses has long resented living under the shadow of this larger-than-life figure, feels she's finally escaped his influence in her own work. (It doesn't help that, when acknowledging that she's his occasional, reluctant assistant, Gyu-Chan confides "The average one has to support the genius.") She's working on a series of narrative, cartoon-like drawings depicting the titular "Cutie" and "Bullie" — blatant stand-ins for herself and Ushio, chronicling her long saga of disillusionment as a classic "good girl" who married a bad boy, to the detriment of her own art and the child she had to raise with "drunk adults hanging around him all the time." (It is one of the film's frustrations that we never really get Alex's perspective on this, though he's clearly a wary veteran of his parents' misbehaviors and judgments.)
If her husband is discomfited by this exposure of their private life — even when the "Cutie" series (which is turned into simple animation throughout the documentary) is exhibited in conjunction with his own latest gallery show — he doesn't show it. But then, she does the fretting for both of them.
A quiet, almost meditative portrait of messy lives, Cutie and the Boxer doesn't really answer the question of why these two remained together despite all (her) dissatisfaction. When he accepts an invitation to go to Japan — cramming a couple of small sculptures carelessly in his suitcase to sell while there — she says "suddenly the air clears" whenever he's gone, and we see her lighten up considerably while showing a fellow Japanese expat friend her latest work. But you get the feeling Noriko, while hardly an emotional open book, loves her burdensome, unruly spouse more than she'd admit. Or at least she's accepted the "struggle" of life with him as her own goading raison d'être. You know the saying: life is short, art is long. *
CUTIE AND THE BOXER opens Fri/23 in San Francisco.