Monday, February 18, 2008

The Cats of Mirikitani

A strategic title, as the director admitted, to bring in the cat lovers -- of which she is one herself, and connecting about cats was the origin of this really great documentary.

I saw it downtown at a commemoration of the signing of Executive Order 9066, which cleared the way for the Japanese American internment. One of those internees was hapless young Jimmy Mirikitani, who was born in Sacramento, was taken back to Hiroshima as a child, and came back to America at the age of 18 to elude military service in Japan. Talk about not catching a break; Jimmy was interned at Tule Lake (the worst of the camps, where the "disloyals" were segregated), separated from his sister who he never found again after the war. He renounced his citizenship, like so many at Tule Lake. Most of his mother's family was killed in the atomic bomb drop.

Jimmy seems to have drifted after internment. He went to work at Seabrook Farms in NJ, like a lot of post-internees, and then drove for a rich man in NYC, cooked for Jackson Pollock in East Hampton for a while... Eventually, he was living on the street in Soho and surviving as an artist. Quite a remarkable one, as you'll see by this little sample. He started drawing cats in the internment camp for a young boy who liked cats. That boy died there and was buried in the desert.

After 9/11, the director Linda took eighty-year-old Jimmy into her apartment, and together they changed his life. I won't spoil it for you. It's really a great little film with many different plot arcs. Jimmy himself is a fantastic character, with trenchant criticism of the government, a sly sense of humor, and an unbelievable, almost completely untrained artistic gift. I'll warn you that it's quite weepy along the way, and I have a couple of critiques of the ending, but run, don't walk to see it. You can buy the DVD from the official website, wait for PBS to show it again, or go see it in Manhattan right now, where it's showing at a theater downtown.

1 comment:

scituate said...

This is a great story. The transformation of Jimmy is truly amazing.