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Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Cats of Mirikitani

The Cats of Mirikitani is not a great famous movie; nonetheless it is a beautiful one, telling an exceptional story in a quiet and simple way, with a nice sense of joy and humor. The story in the movie is exceptional, and also the intertwined story of making the movie, and both of them are told simply and beautifully.

One day Linda Hattendorf (a young film director living in SoHo near Prince Street and Sixth Avenue) started recording small videos with an old homeless artist living on the sidewalks, half block away from her apartment.

(video of PBS)

The guy was Jimmy Mirikitani, eighty years old. He was spending his days drawing cats on used cardboards and selling them to the passers-by.

It was the summer of 2000, he was there all days, with his cardboards and his red beret, and Linda was stepping by and taking a shot every given morning.

Fall of 2000 came and then winter, now weather was harsh, the old guy was wearing an overcoat aside his red beret, and he was going on with his sleeping in the street and his colored cats on used cardboards. Wonderful cats, wonderfully colored, sometimes looking like tigers with a small funny jungle around, sometimes just like cats.

Then 2001, spring again, then summer, then fall. September Eleven found the old man in his usual place, but it was no more room for him any more, even on sidewalks.

And Linda took the old man in her apartment, he had now a bed in a corner, and a decent meal every day.

He started telling his life, in small pieces, and Linda was recording him. He had been born in Sacramento, California. His parents had come from Japan, and the whole family moved back to Hiroshima when he was a kid.

He came back to US in 1939; the war followed and all American citizens of Japanese ethnicity living on the West coast were interned in camps. So Jimmy Mirikitani spent the years of war in the camp of Tule Lake.

After the end of the war the young man lost any connection with his family; many of his relatives did not survive the war; with the others the connection was simply lost. He moved to New York, and tried pursuing an artistic career, without success. In the end he became the homeless red-bereted painter from the sidewalks of SoHo.

Linda started to organize his life. By her efforts he was put on welfare, then he was admitted in an assisted living home. He also started teaching young artists, and finally Linda was able to find her sister, whom he had not seen any more after leaving the internment camp.

And Linda put together the footage and finished the movie.

This is the story of the life of Jimmy Mirikitani, and the story of how the movie was made.



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