Synopsis by Mark Deming
Filmmaker Linda Hattendorf offers a remarkable profile of a man who, after surviving one of the most shameful episodes in American history, finds his nation preparing to make the same mistakes all over again. Jimmy Tsutomu Mirikitani is an elderly man of Japanese heritage who lives on the streets of New York City, where he makes a meager living peddling his drawings. Mirikitani specializes in sketches of cats, but that's hardly the only thing he draws. When he was a young man, Mirikitani lived in California during World War II and found himself in an internment camp in Tule Lake, CA, where Japanese-Americans were stripped of their rights and locked away because of racist assumptions about their loyalties; his years in Tule Lake are a common subject in his more personal work. In the wake of the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001, Mirikitani found life in New York City harder than ever for the homeless, and filmmaker Hattendorf, who had struck up an acquaintance with the artist, offered to let him move into her home. As Mirikitani slowly but surely takes over Hattendorf's flat under the gaze of her camera, he shares with her horrifying stories of his days in internment, discusses the emotional scars that have yet to heal from his experiences, and his growing rage over the casual racism that has taken over New York in the wake of 9/11 -- racism which mirrors his own experiences in the 1940s. The Cats of Mirikitani was screened in competition at the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival.
artist, cat, friendship, healing, homelessness, internment, Japanese-American, post-traumatic-stress, racism, September 11th, sketch, terrorism