Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. Ulay and Marina Abramovic. Georgia O'Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz—the history of art wouldn’t be the same without some of its most famously passionate couples. Zachary Heinzerling’s Cutie and the Boxer brings yet another dynamic duo to the forefront: Ushio and Noriko Shinohara, the Japan-born and New York City-based artists whose tumultuous 40-year marriage is at the center of this 2013 documentary, which will compete for a Best Documentary Feature Oscar this weekend.
Though the Shinoharas have not (yet) gained the same level of recognition as those previously mentioned paramours, Cutie and the Boxer just might change that. Noriko is an artist in her own right (she’s the author of a quirky “Cutie and Bullie” illustration series), but she has spent the past several decades putting her own artistic endeavors aside to support her alcoholic husband and son. Her charismatic but often troublesome husband Ushio, the titular “Boxer,” has experienced a fair amount of success for his unique style of creation, in which he dons a pair of boxing gloves to create performance-style murals. His other works include colorful, misshapen sculptures of strange creatures and distorted motorcycles and aggressively vibrant drawings that ride the line between expressionist paintings and graffiti.
Despite his wife’s ongoing support, and the fact that Ushio has exhibited his work at galleries around the world, the Shinoharas’ story is one of constant struggle—creatively, financially, and emotionally. And the resulting film—which is streaming now on Netflix—is a fascinating look at the sacrifices artists must make to pursue their passions and the effect these choices have on the people around them.
Before the Oscar winners are announced on Sunday evening, here are 10 Things You Should Know About Cutie and the Boxer.