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Cats of Mirikitani, The
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by Jay Seaver

"One good thing that came out of 9/11."
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2007 INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL OF BOSTON: When filmmaker Linda Hattendorf met homeless artist Tsumoto "Jimmy" Mirikitani on January 1st, 2001, he was at the start of his ninth decade of living a rough life.

How rough, you ask? He was born in Sacramento, CA, in 1920, though raised in Japan from the age of three. Returning to the United States as a young man because he, as an artist, did not believe in the war, he was placed in the Tule Lake interment camp for his trouble. There, he was separated from his sister, saw the his closest friend in the camp die of dysentery, pushed into renouncing his American citizenship, and used as slave labor. Most of his family in Japan was killed when the bomb fell on Hiroshima. It's little wonder that when Linda's camera captures a jet slamming into the World Trade Center during an interview, he just keeps working on what he was drawing. Nothing has changed, the world still sucks.

Things do change, though, both in what kind of film Linda is making and in Jimmy's life. With the air in Manhattan becoming unbreathable, Linda invites Jimmy to sleep in her home, and rather than just trying to bring attention to Jimmy with her film, hoping that it will inspire the world to help him and others like him, she starts researching how to secure him Social Security benefits, hunting down other possible members of his family, and otherwise getting directly involved in his life. She tries to avoid showing herself on camera - her cat probably gets more screen time - but the relationship between Linda and Jimmy becomes a central part of the film. He worries about her staying out late, she confronts the difficulties of finding good elder care.

With much of the film taking place during the weeks and months after the September Eleventh attacks, Jimmy especially spends a lot of time worrying that the United States may soon be repeating its shameful behavior of sixty years earlier, especially as the news talks about attacks on Arab Americans and polls show that many Americans favor special forms of identification for people of Middle Eastern descent, even if they're American citizens. Jimmy is bitter and lacks any sort of faith in the country in which he was born, as he's got every right to be. His wartime interment is the sort of event that shapes a person forever.

We see it in his art even more than his refusal to investigate Social Security because he wants no part of the U.S. government. Although cats are his favorite subject, may of his drawings are of Tule Lake, covering large pieces of paper with detailed illustrations, often the same scene over and over again. It's somewhat sad to look Jimmy drawing another one of those landscapes, because it means that after sixty years, a good portion of his mind is still there, but he's not completely a man unable to move on from a low point in his life; he sees it as his duty to remind people of this chapter in American history, lest it happen again.

And it's not the entirety of Jimmy's personality, either. He's irascible, likes old samurai movies, and emerges from his cocoon of bitterness when given a chance. He often introduces himself as "Jimmy Mirikitani, Master Artist", and it's a title many will say he deserves. For a man in his eighties who has been living on the streets for years, he's got a remarkably steady hand and is able to fill in fine details very quickly. Out of necessity, we initially see him working with Bic ball-point pens (not only are they cheap, but they don't smear in the wind and rain), crayons, and colored pencils, and his talent is obvious. When Linda and a nearby senior center are able to get him some better materials, the results are often beautiful, mixes of Japanese and Western styles that the world should have seen much earlier.

Jimmy's happier when the picture ends in mid-2002 - having a true friend who becomes family, and gaining a measure of respect will do that. It's a pleasure to watch (and to hear that as of April 2007, Jimmy was still doing well).

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=14407&reviewer=371
originally posted: 04/29/07 10:47:13
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Tribeca Film Festival For more in the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Vancouver Film Festival For more in the 2006 Vancouver Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Philadelphia Film Festival For more in the 2007 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Independent Film Festival of Boston For more in the 2007 Independent Film Festival of Boston series, click here.

User Comments

2/18/15 tiara indriana pretty shit 2 stars
1/06/15 brando this movie suck! 1 stars
3/28/12 Marty Enlightening look at another culture. well-paced doc. gotta give up 5 5 stars
5/30/11 Julie G. Watched it several times-amazing. Wish he was our roomate! 5 stars
12/03/07 TheSentinel The phonies are out in droves, this movie sucks 1 stars
8/25/07 Peter E. Exceptionally moving story about the spirit of a man, undiminished and brilliant 5 stars
8/05/07 Amy Clyman Very moving. Saw film 4 mo's ago & am still thinking about these 2 extraordinary people. 5 stars
6/01/07 Anna Knauer I loved this film!! A sad & beautiful story. Where can I buy artwork!! 5 stars
5/10/07 Irma Lerma Thank you for making this wonderful movie about the power of caring and love. 5 stars
5/09/07 Harish Kallianpur Extraordinarily brilliant movie I couldnt help but cry in the end.. very touching tale .. 5 stars
5/06/07 Hideyo Takimoto An excellent, poignant movie especially for me, who had lived near him in Tule Lake. 5 stars
4/29/07 Sarah Hill Beautiful and poignant. Everyone should see this film. 5 stars
4/15/07 Nancy Cunningham skillfully drawn, emotionaly satisfying portrait of an aritst as an old man 5 stars
1/28/07 Jim Carson Wish everybody could see this powerful, satisfying film. 5 stars
11/10/06 Liette Leclair What a beautiful movie. What an amazing person! 5 stars
8/17/06 Diana Maria Nemi Outstanding. Truth becomes stranger than fiction. 5 stars
5/01/06 Michael Regan Great movie....go see it! 5 stars
4/28/06 Cristian Vergara This man is incredible. At Tribeca, after the screening, he even sang for us. :) 5 stars
4/27/06 Joanne Singer A wonderful film. A poignant journey filled with compassion and humor 5 stars
4/27/06 Jess Espinosa Proves what wonderful things happen when we take care of each other. Inspiring. 5 stars
4/26/06 Donna Gelb Heart, humor, and hope. extraordinary humanity throws it in our everyday faces. 5 stars
4/26/06 regina schrambling a story more amazing than fiction, told with grace and skill. 5 stars
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  DVD: 08-Apr-2008



Directed by
  Linda Hattendorf

Written by

  Jimmy Mirikitani

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