Cutie and the Boxer is a bittersweet examination of the artist's life: quirky and determined, with a sad backstory and an uncertain future. But the show goes on, the Boxer still treks his way halfway around the world, from NYC to his home country, Japan, just to make a couple thousand dollars, an old man hauling sunsplash canvasses of boxing-glove paint-flowers and wacky fantasy choppers—while his wife, a real Cutie in many ways, turns her bulgy-charming autobiographical comic-book drawings into wild wallpaper that surrounds her beginning to end, from her past to the anxious future.
It's quite a situation for these two, avant-garde holdovers from the heyday of power Pop Art, still plugging away. Ushio is aptly the Boxer—"Bullie" in his wife's drawings—who dons paint-soaked spongy gloves and jabs his way across the canvas. Noriko has transformed their life together into an ongoing, lifelong graphic novel, in which her surrogate, Cutie, tries mightily with Ushio/Bullie to be, as Noriko puts it, "two flowers in one pot." It is sometimes almost embarrassing to watch; I feel I'm intruding, their relationship is so intimate—and intimately bound with their troubled past, the Boxer lost in alcoholism, Cutie trying to be both a mother and an artist, both of them cramped in a small space—even their grown son, also an artist, a bit trapped, his own drinking problem stumbling around the little apartment with them.
But in the end, as much as your heart aches, a great triumph emerges: They continue, they still do art, as old and tired as they can get, groaning with the effort to turn their passion into a few dollars, just enough to pay the rent and have something tasty to eat and keep working—and in the process grow young again, their eyes sparkling. The film has the sad air of a fruitless endeavor, but one that revels in the opportunity to try anyway, for love—and, as silly as it sounds (and sorry for you if it feels that way), art.