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The Cats of Mirikitani

4.9 out of 5 stars 45 customer reviews

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(Apr 08, 2008)
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

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.
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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

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Tsutomu Mirikitani
  • Directors: Linda Hattendorf
  • Format: Closed-captioned, Color, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    Not Rated
  • Studio: Arts Alliance America
  • DVD Release Date: April 8, 2008
  • Run Time: 96 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B0012OTVQC
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #61,127 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "The Cats of Mirikitani" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By D. Alban on February 13, 2008
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
It's a real shame that almost no one saw this film (it never got a wide theatrical release), because it's my pick for the best film of 2007. Without giving too much away, it's a fascinating documentary about Jimmy Mirikitani, an elderly NYC steet artist of Japanese descent who is befriended, and ultimately taken in off the streets, by the documentarian herself, Linda Hattendorf.

As Linda gets to know Jimmy, and tries to find him a permanent place to live, she begins to find out about his past through his drawings and conversations with him. Meanwhile, they both experience the aftermath of 9/11 together, which reminds Jimmy of how America responded to an earlier surprise attack on American soil, and the dramatic turn of events it caused in his own life...

The Cats of Mirikitani is a deeply moving film about one person's compassion for another, a friendship that develops between them, and the fascinating unearthing of Jimmy Mirikitani's personal history. While it is primarily a personal film, it can't help but also touch on the political aspects of how our nation reacts in times of crisis, and the rippling effects this can have many years later. Jimmy Mirikitani's art is revealed as subtle political commentary based on his own poignant personal experiences.

This is a must-see film for documentary lovers and anyone who's interested in the human condition. I give it my strongest possible recommendation - do not miss The Cats of Mirikitani.
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What probably started as curiosity and sympathy turns into a life experience of discovery, friendship and love - the real kind. Beautiful, haunting, true to the human spirit. This is a moving story about a street person, Jimmy Mirikitani, who turns out to be a grand master artist running from a past of the cruelties of the American Japanese internment camps. He is a passionate artist, with dual citizenship, who was born in American, educated in Japan, and eventually came back to America to pursue his passion - art, in his own style - a fusion of orient and occident. But after the cruel internment and losing his American citizenship in the process, he ends up with nothing, yet desperately continues his art. With no sense of placement in any country, he begins living on the fringes of American society. When his luck runs out, he ends up on the street. This is where the story begins. He carries a quiet anger and bitterness, yet never for one moment does he sway from his deep seeded commitment to his art. He has no self pity, he has only the integrity and beauty of the artistic vision within. The director starts filming, following his life, but then 9/11 happens and he has no where to go. She gives him a place to stay, and thus ensues the lively friendship that fills both of their lives with surprises, warmth, respect and eventually, true friendship. This ultimately offers Jimmy a vehicle for coming full circle - to a place of acceptance and healing. This is one of my favorite all-time documentaries - it's magic.
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This documentary was a bit pricey, but my goodness, well worth it. After befriending Jimmy Mirikitani, the filmmaker takes us on a journey from homelessness, through the tragedy of 9/11, through Jimmy's rightful hatred for the US government (oddly enough, later on in the film he's seen wearing a baseball cap with the American flag and eagle on it!), meeting his long-lost family, revisiting the internment camp he was held captive in in Tula Lake, his acceptance of his status as an America citizen and placement in a assisted living apartment using his social security, and (through the special features) his eventual return to Hiroshima for a visit on the national day of mourning. I just finished the film and it is fresh in my mind. Tears were shed. A very emotional and rewarding documentary that I can highly recommend to everyone. Definitely a film that will remain in your heart, because it makes entry.
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If the Bible were being written today, this story could go in it.
Don't miss it! A true story of injustice, pride, tragedy, comedy, and
great, great compassion. Plus a true happy ending. You will think twice
before you ever judge a street person, or anyone who is down and out.
You just don't know what amazing story may be in front of you. Among all
the excellent documentaries making the rounds of the film festivals the
past ten years, this has been the most beneficial and most memorable.
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Format: DVD
I was fortunate to see this film during its premiere run at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2006 (where it won the Audience Award) and have been looking for a chance to see it again ever since! What starts out as an examination of a year in the life of Jimmy Mirikitani, a homeless artist in NYC, becomes a different story when the events of 9/11 prompt the documentarian (Linda Hattendorf) to cease being just an observer and become personally involved in her subject's story. The resulting revelations of Mirikitani's personal history and treatment as a Japanese-American during WWII are heartbreaking and eye opening, which makes the process that he & Hattendorf go through in an attempt to heal old wounds and get him back on his feet even more inspirational. I've very rarely been as moved by a film as I was by this one. I can't recommend it highly enough!!
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