Today: Jul 17, 2024

Documentary shows life of formerly homeless artist


80-year-old Jimmy Mirikitani used the power of creativity to help himself survive racial persecution in the wake of Pearl Harbor, life in an internment camp, and eventually, homelessness in New York City. But when the 9/11 attacks threaten his safety, he finds a friend in a local filmmaker who eventually brings Mirikitani on a journey to rediscover his past and rethink his future.

This journey is documented in the award-winning film “The Cats of Mirikitani,” which was screened for Southern students by the Multicultural Department Thursday morning in the Michael J. Adanti Student Center.

The film tells the story of Jimmy Mirikitani, a Japanese artist born in Sacramento, Calif., raised in Hiroshima, Japan until moving to America at the age of 18, and haunted by his memories of Tulelake Internment Camp, where he and his family were placed in the months following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Mirikitani now lives his life on the streets of lower Manhattan, spending his days painting pictures of persimmons, life in the internment camp, the glow of the atomic bomb, the film’s namesake cats.

After the attack on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, Mirikitani found himself thrust into another world of war. The film documents his life during this time of national panic, as well as the friendship that develops between him and Linda Hattendorf, a filmmaker who lives next to the spot where Mirikitani sets up his artwork every day.

Kayo Yoshikawa, professor of world languages and literature at Southern, says that, in light of the 10 anniversary of the terrorist attacks, the story of resilience and friendship contained within “The Cats of Mirikitani” is a timely one.

“Certain parts of history cannot be told without war stories,” Yoshikawa said. “When we have discussion on war in general, we have a tendency to go over timelines and statistics–statistics of casualties. However, like your mother, your father, brother, sister, my students, the people in this room, a human life cannot always be reduced to a simple number.”

Yoshikawa also draws parallels between the treatment of Japanese Americans during World War II and the similar disdain many Americans had towards Muslims following 9/11.

“In 2001, when the Pentagon and Twin Towers were attacked by the terrorists,” Yoshikawa said, “Japanese-Americans were keenly aware of the plight of Arab-Americans in the States. They worked together with Muslim communities to appease hatred towards them and to protect the children in those communities.”

Hattendorf, who could not be reached for comment in time for publishing, did say in a recent interview with Cinema Asian America that “one of the things I admire most about (Jimmy) is his ability to hold on to joy and humanity despite the most grave of circumstances.  No matter what was happening around him, he was able to retain his spirit.  There is a deep core inside him that no one could take away.”

“In viewing the movie myself, I’ve learned to appreciate both art and the simpler things in life,” said Dian Brown-Albert, coordinator for multicultural student activities at SCSU. “It is my hope that our students will feel the same way.”

Professor Yoshikawa shares Brown-Albert’s hope that the film will enrich the lives of those who see it.

“There is a saying in Japanese–‘Ichi-go ichi-e’. ‘Once in a lifetime, one special encounter’,” Yoshikawa said. “Mirikitani and Linda met each other, and the encounter changed their lives. We are here together this morning because of the magical power of Ichi-go ichi-e. I wish this encounter would open the opportunity for another encounter in (my students’) lives.”

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