The Cats Of Mirikitani

2007, Movie, NR, 72 mins


Film editor Linda Hattendorf quite literally stumbled across the subject for her first film: After befriending a homeless, elderly painter living on the streets near her cluttered Lower Manhattan apartment, she took him in rather than leave him to the post 9/11 chaos that enveloped her neighborhood. Unkempt, hunched beneath layers of shapeless clothes and alternately muttering in heavily accented English and furiously scribbling pictures of cats, Hiroshima in flames, persimmons and desert barracks on scraps of cardboard and paper, 80-year-old Tsutomo "Jimmy" Mirikitani seems every inch the harmlessly crazy street person. Routine and order soon reveal a gruff, eccentric but entirely sane man who washes dishes, waters Hattendorf's plants and worries when she's out late. His paranoid-sounding rants take on a very different cast after TV coverage of the WTC attacks and subsequent hostility toward "suspicious" foreigners prompt him to talk about his own experiences as a WWII-era Japanese-American. Born in Sacramento, Mirikitani was raised in Hiroshima. At age 18, he defied his father by refusing to enter military school and returning to the U.S. Mirikitani then moved in with his married sister, Kazuko, and pursued a career as an artist, but five years later the siblings were sent to separate internment camps. Pressured to renounce his citizenship and stripped of his passport, Mirikitani was confined for three and a half years before the "opportunity" to process frozen vegetables for a pittance at New Jersey's Seabrook Farms arose. With his family in Japan dead and his sister vanished, Mirikitani bounced from one odd job to another — including cooking for abstract expressionist Jackson Pollack — before settling into a live-in position as driver/cook/companion to an elderly Manhattan man. When his employer died after 18 years, Mirikitani drifted onto the streets. While trying to get Mirikitani into the social-services system, Hattendorf begins to reestablish the connections he lost to rootlessness, stubborn pride and quiet despair. She contacts artist Roger Shimomura, who knows Murikitani's work, and writes to San Francisco-based poet Janice Mirikitani, whose father proves to have been his cousin. Hattendorf discovers that Mirikitani's citizenship was reinstated in 1959 — the notification never reached him — and even locates his sister. Mirikitani's remarkable story may have dropped into Hattendorf's lap, but her willingess to shelter an aging, eccentric stranger brought about the ending that makes her film such a sweetly unsentimental charmer. The person who can resist a formerly homeless senior citizen gradually restored to sufficient stability to the degree that he can take in his own "castaway cat" is hard-hearted indeed. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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The Cats Of Mirikitani
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