The Cats Of Mirikitami: An Artist Reborn Through Love

Artist Jimmy Mirikitami is homeless and living on the streets of New York City when filmmaker Linda Hattendorf first meets him.

As a former city dweller, there are several unwritten rules about dealing with homeless people.
First: Don’t make eye contact. Don’t give them money as they will probably use it for alcohol. And let’s not forget that many homeless people are mentally ill moochers; give them a penny, and they’ll ask for a quarter. These urban rules make the documentary film The Cats of Miritikani (2006) even more astonishing.

Meet Jimmy Mirikitani

Filmmaker and New York City resident, Linda Hattendorf, meets an old Japanese man living on the streets. What makes this homeless man, Jimmy Mirikitani, different are his scrolls of wonderful, stylized cat paintings and drawings. In the wake of September 11, 2001, Hattendorf invites Mirikitani to come and live with her to get him off the streets and away from the fetid air of the smoldering towers. This huge violation of all city rules starts an avalanche of positive change for Mirikitani.

We learn that Mirikitani is over 80 years old and a Japanese American who was imprisoned in an internment camp during World War II and had his citizenship revoked. Mirikitani is a trained artist who spent time in Japan honing his craft. Through the initiative of Hattendorf, Mirikitani discovers his citizenship was returned to the 1950s. He also learns that his 86-year-old sister is still alive and living in California.


Much of the joy of watching The Cats of Mirikitani comes from watching Jimmy go through healing after decades of loss. The filmmakers aid Jimmy in applying for and obtaining Social Security. (At first, Jimmy says he doesn’t want Social Security. Mirikitani doesn’t want money or help from a country that had rejected him so soundly as to imprison him and revoke his citizenship.) He also gets his own apartment and begins teaching art at a local senior center. The filmmakers help Mirikitami raise funds so that he can attend a reunion at the former concentration camp in Tule Lake, California, and visit his sister. Mirikitami is reconnected to old friends and makes some new ones as well.
Cats is a satisfying story of redemption and generosity. We learn that not all homeless people are homeless of their own volition. We learn that not all New Yorkers are cold-hearted and callous. We learn that many good things may have come out of the loss and chaos of September 11. We also take note that the artwork of Jimmy Mirikitami is a huge part of what helped to sustain him through some very dark days.

Today, Jimmy Mirikitani is 91-years-old and his artwork is housed in museums all over the world.

Thank You

Since The Cats of Mirikitani debuted, it has received awards from Tribeca, Paris, and Tokyo. While we must acknowledge Linda Hattendorf as a true angel, there are other people who helped Jimmy and who assisted the making of such an unforgettable film. This includes the producer, Masa Yoshikawa, the editor Keiko Deguchi, and composer Joel Goodman. To all of you who continue to defy stereotypes and to reach out to others with kindness and compassion…thank you.

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