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Eighty-year-old Jimmy Mirikitani survived the trauma of WWII internment camps, Hiroshima, and homelessness by creating art. But when 9/11 threatens his life on the New York City streets and a local filmmaker brings him to her home, the two embark of a journey to confront Jimmy's painful past.
The Cats of Mirikitani (Arts Alliance America, 2006) Mirikitani is a artist, first name Tsutomo (nickname Jimmy), whose cats are among his most popular pictures. At 81, he's living on the street in Soho where he's befriended by filmmaker Linda Hattendorf, who offers him blankets and other assistance, all of which he cordially declines. He's doing fine, he says. When the World Trade Center is destroyed on 9/11, however, he accepts her offer of a place to stay, away from noxious dust and deserted streets. As their friendship develops, she learns his remarkable story of growing up in Hiroshima, then returning to California, where he was born, only to be thrown into an internment camp for 3 1/2 years until World War II ended with the annihilation of Hiroshima and much of his family with it. After all that, he's a remarkably kind, good-natured man whose company you will enjoy for a couple of hours (including the extra scenes on the DVD). Not rated. --Hartford Courant
Deceptively unassuming, The Cats of Mirikitani seems like a sweet little bauble of a documentary at first, a simple portrait of one of those colorful street characters indigenous to artistic urban enclaves. Linda Hattendorf, a documentarian living in SoHo, meets elderly street artist Tsutomu Jimmy Mirikitani on 1 January 2001. Intrigued by his drawings, she decides to start filming him in action and following him as he wanders the streets of New York.
Prolific and generous, Mirikitani gives away his art for free to whomever asks. Proud and stubborn, he accepts no payment (except that the buyer take a photograph of the drawing), and accepts no help, even as the January snow piles up around him on the streets. Through spring and summer she trails him, and we learn a bit about Mirikitani s story his life in Japan, his early career as an artist, and, briefly, in passing, about his internment in California during World War II. But still, he remains mostly a closed book.
All this changes with 9/11. Amidst the rain of ash and fumes spilling out over SoHo, Hattendorf convinces Mirikitani to come home with her, if just for a little while, for shelter (much as you d take in a stray cat, I guess?). This one act of simple compassion is the major turning point, both in the film and in Mirikitani s life. As he becomes more ensconced in Hattendorf s flat, and continues with his drawing (which progressively takes over more and more of the apartment), we start to learn more about Mirikitani s life and trials, and what his art means, as he reveals more and more of himself to the omnipresent camera.
Born in Sacramento in 1920, Mirikitani is a US citizen. However, he grew up in Japan, in Hiroshima, after his mother emigrated back during the 1920s. Growing wary of the nascent Japanese militarism, the pacifist Mirikitani returned home only to find himself almost immediately thrown into one of the several internment camps the US used to detain those of Japanese descent thought to be a threat to national security during World War II (most of whom were in fact US citizens, like Mirikitani). The three years he spent at Tule Lake, California (the largest camp, with a population of 18,000) would prove to be the pivotal event in his life (how could it not be?) and would haunt him and his art.
All through Mirikitani s profusion of drawings, two main themes keep appearing, almost obsessively the titular cats (Cheshire-like in their eeriness) in memory of a friend of his in the camp who died there, early and young; and, more ominously, the landscape of the camp itself, with a forbidding mountain-scape in the background, and utter desolation in the fore. He repeats this same scene over and over, like he is trying to bore down to some fundamental truth, to find some semblance of understanding.
In the present he finds new parallels and bridges with his past, between the profiling and targeting of Arab-Americans and Japanese-Americans, as well as between the World Trade Center and the bombing of his hometown of Hiroshima (where entire chunks of his family tree were completely wiped out). His drawings of calamity, past and present, seem almost to be a dialogue between times and places which aren t separated by all that much distance.
As the months tick by into early winter, Hattendorf starts urging Mirikitani to take steps to get back on his feet and into mainstream society. Proud and defiant still, Mirikitani is adamant in refusing any help the US would give him he let his citizenship lapse long ago, and refuses his social security checks. He begins to soften, though, the more he comes to terms with the past, and the more he attempts to recover it, reuniting with far flung family who were scattered during internment.
Reemerging from his self-imposed exile, Mirikitani s journey through h --Popmatters.com
well done experience of an outcast Japanese American Artist who also loves cats and the woman who encouraged him!!Published 3 months ago by CinKo
Mesmerizing. Redemptive. Endearing. Someone took the time to talk to a homeless artist who, it turns out, had an amazing story. Read morePublished 5 months ago by Del Price
Wonderful documentary. Uplifting story. Should be shown in all high schools to understand the Japanese internment during WWII.Published 10 months ago by Waterdiver
Amazing, poignant documentary about Jimmy Mirikitani and his art, while telling the story of his internment in the Japanese Relocation camp at Tulelake, California during World War... Read morePublished 13 months ago by Grandma Wen
7-19: I had seen this movie, and knew I had to buy a copy for a Japanese-American friend of mine. I'm sure she'll really appreciate it. Read morePublished 13 months ago by Esther D.