Cats of Mirikitani
Photos and Video
What do a quizzical housecat and a homeless "grand master artist" have in common? How do dreams survive on the streets of New York? Can art raise the living from the dead? Such questions frame this portrait of an octogenarian outsider artist, Jimmy Mirikitani. Born in 1920 in Sacramento, California, Mirikitani grew up in Hiroshima and quickly showed a talent for painting. Hoping to avoid the draft in Japan, he returned to the U.S. during World War II and was forced into an internment camp. It became the decisive season of his life, and desolate images of the camp-as well as scenes from his beloved Hiroshima, both before and after its destruction-appear repeatedly in his work. But brilliant colors and felines, whether dreamy kittens or fierce tigers, also abound. In 2001, Mirikitani was living in Washington Square Park, still drawing pictures of the events that so dramatically affected his life. To rescue him from toxic dust after the World Trade Center collapse, filmmaker Linda Hattendorf impulsively brings Mirikitani home with her, like a stray. Now impromptu roommates, the unassuming filmmaker and elderly artist explore Mirikitani's painful past, navigate the maze of social services, and seek out his long-lost relatives-aided and abetted by Hattendorf's pet cat, of course. Mirikitani even travels back to the camp where he was interned, to make peace with the past. But most importantly, he shares his story with someone who wants to listen. In this often funny, intimate film, we see the creative spirit unfurl itself like a cat's tail as it awakens from a long slumber.
Director's Statement Collapse
This project began in January of 2001 when a homeless artist living on the streets of Manhattan gave me a drawing of a cat. In exchange, I agreed to photograph his art. When I returned with a video camera he began to talk about his pictures. He called himself a "peace artist," and his stories spilled out in a jumble: Hiroshima, Jackson Pollock, ancient samurai generations, desert camps, his love for cats. Clearly, this man had a story to tell. I began to visit him daily. Initially, I thought this was just a small verité piece documenting four seasons of his life on the street, but when September 11 happened, I found myself unable to passively shoot pictures of this elderly man coughing from the smoke. I crossed the line from witness to advocate and brought my subject home. The walls separating his world from mine no longer made sense-his story now included us all.
Film Information Collapse
[CATSO] | 2006 | 74 | Documentary Feature
Foreign Title: (The Cats of Mirikitani)
Language: Japanese, English
About the Director(s)Collapse
Linda Hattendorf has been working in the New York documentary community for over a decade. Her editing work has aired on PBS, A&E, and Sundance Channel, as well as in festivals and theatrical venues. Most recently, she was associate editor on Barbara Kopple's Bearing Witness, contributing editor for Lisette Flanary's American Aloha, and camerawoman for William Greaves' Symbiopsychotaxiplasm Take 2 1/2. She edited Josh Pais' 7th Street, Julia Pimsleurs' Brother Born Again, Nancy Recant's Jin Shin Jyutsu, Christina Lundberg's On the Road Home: A Spiritual Journey Guided by Remarkable Women, and researched for Ken Burns' The West series. Born in Cincinnati Ohio, she holds degrees in Art History, Literature, and Media Studies. This is her directorial debut.