The Film

Jimmy Mirikitani talks to the camera while sitting against a chain-link fence, dressed in a button-down green shirt and a red beret

"Make art not war" is Jimmy Mirikitani's motto. The 80-year-old artist was born in Sacramento, California, raised in Hiroshima, Japan, traveled the U.S. and even cooked for artist Jackson Pollock. But by 2001, Mirikitani was homeless, living on the streets of New York City. As tourists and shoppers hurried past, Mirikitani sat alone on a windy corner in New York’s SoHo, drawing pictures of whimsical cats, bleak internment camps and the angry red flames of the atomic bomb. When local filmmaker Linda Hattendorf stopped to ask about his art, a friendship—detailed in THE CATS OF MIRIKITANI—began that changed both their lives.

In sunshine, rain and snow, Hattendorf returned to document Mirikitani’s drawings, trying to decipher the stories behind them. The tales spilled out in a jumble. Childhood picnics in Japan, lost citizenship, Pearl Harbor, thousands of Americans imprisoned in WWII desert camps, a boy who loved cats. As winter warmed to spring and summer, Hattendorf started to piece together the puzzle of Mirikitani's past. One thing is clear from his prolific sidewalk displays: he has survived terrible traumas and is determined to make his history visible through his art.

September 11, 2001 threw Mirikitani once again into a world at war and challenged Hattendorf to move from the role of witness to advocate. During the chaos following the collapse of the World Trade Center, she found herself unable to passively photograph this elderly man coughing in the toxic smoke, and invited him into her small apartment. In this uncharted landscape, the two unlikely roommates navigated the maze of the social welfare system, sought out lost family members and researched the artist’s painful past, finding eerie parallels to events unfolding around them in the present.

Blending beauty and humor with tragedy and loss, THE CATS OF MIRIKITANI is an intimate exploration of the lingering wounds of war and the healing power of art.


In March 2007, THE CATS OF MIRIKITANI Co-Producer/Director Linda Hattendorf reported on what Jimmy Mirikitani has been doing since filming completed:

Jimmy has now been living in his own apartment for more than five years. I still visit him every week; he introduces me to people as his granddaughter. He's 86 now and still making lots of art. He just had his first one-man show at an exhibition at the Wing Luke Asian Museum in Seattle. This summer, Masa Yoshikawa and I hope to take Jimmy back to Japan to visit Hiroshima, where he grew up. We'll try to go there for the Peace Ceremony on August 6. It should be quite a powerful moment for us all.

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