Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Cats of Mirikitani

Great review of the upcoming season-ending Film, The Cats of Mirikitani by James O'Barr:


By James O’Barr

Linda Hattendorf’s luminous directorial debut, “The Cats of Mirikitani,” scheduled for screening at the Philipstown Depot Theatre on Friday, June 18, brings Depot Docs 4th season to a powerful, transcendent close. Ms. Hattendorf, who produced and co-edited the film, also plays an unusual but important on-screen role, as friend and advocate for its principle subject, Tsutomu “Jimmy” Mirikitani.

Mr. Mirikitani was 80 years old, and had been living on the streets of Greenwhich Village for some years, surviving by selling his paintings, when Ms. Hattendorf, who lived in the neighborhood, befriended him in early 2001. She had made a career as a documentary editor, but was fascinated by the small, wizened artist and his strange and beautiful work, and began to film him in what she calls a “simple verite portrait of one homeless man.” Much of that filming took place in the shadow of the World Trade Center’s twin towers, and when the towers came down, and Ms. Hattendorf found Mr. Mirikitani struggling to survive in the toxic smoke and dust and the disorienting chaos that followed, she invited him to stay with her in her small apartment.

The grudging acceptance of that kindness and generosity was a step that became a redemptive journey for Jimmy Mirikitani, as Ms. Hattendorf, and we, learn his tragic history. The journey begins in Sacramento, California, where he is born in 1920, to Hiroshima, where he is educated, back to the United States in 1938, to escape the growing militarism, and to pursue his vocation as an artist. Living with his sister and her family in Seattle when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, he and his sister were forced into separate internment camps, she in Idaho, he in Tule Lake, California. After the war, and his eventual release from continuing illegal internment, he arrived in New York City, hoping to at last find his way as an artist. What he found instead was training as a cook, and eventually, a job as a live-in cook on Park Avenue. When his employer died in the late 1980’s, he was close to 70 years old, and without a home, a job, or a family. He started living on the street, in Washington Square Park, and his life as an artist really began. His paintings, in black pen or brush, and bright pastels, of fishes, cats, bleak desert landscapes, and blood-red skylines, were an obsessive visualization of a haunted, deeply painful history. Only his meeting with the sympathetic and caring fellow artist, Ms. Hattendorf, in SoHo in 2001, allows the stories sketched in the paintings to be fully told, and, in the process, to bring Jimmy Mirikitami home.

“The Cats of Mirikitani” will be shown at the Philipstown Depot Theatre, Garrison’s Landing, on Friday, June 18th, at 7:30 PM. There will be a Q&A with the director, Linda Hattendorf, and a reception, following the screening. For reservations (recommended) call the Depot Theatre at (845) 424-3900, or go to philipstowndepottheatre.org.