Jimmy Tsutomu Mirikitani, 1920-2012

Filmmaker Linda Hattendorf posted the sad news today on the Facebook page for “The Cats of Mirikitani,” the wonderful and powerful documentary she made in 2006:

It is with deep deep sorrow that we must share the sad news that our dear friend Jimmy Mirikitani passed away on Sunday October 21. He was 92 years old. Thank you for all the love you have shown him; his friends and fans meant the world to him.

There will be a public memorial on December 9 at 5 pm in New York at the Japanese American Association, 15 West 44th Street, 11th floor, New York, NY 10036. All are welcome.

Mirikitani turned 92 this past summer, just before he visited Denver for a whirlwind weekend for an opening reception at a gallery exhibit of his artwork, and a screening of Hattendorf’s film. (The video above is from the gallery opening, when he was presented with a birthday cake.)

Mirikitani and the filmmaker, along with the film’s producer Masa Yoshikawa, had been on the road for a week already, and attended a pilgrimage to the Tule Lake internment camp from San Francisco. After Denver, the trio were headed to New Mexico for another screening and art exhibit.

He was adorable, a feisty old man full of good humor and the determined energy that served him through his long journey through the edges of American society.
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It’s an honor to meet artist Jimmy Mirikitani & filmmaker Linda Hattendorf

jimmy mirikitani-linda hattendorf cats of mirikitani

IN 2001, New York filmmaker Linda Hattendorf began documenting the life of a homeless artist whose work caught her attention. The elderly man, who set up his “shop” outside a corner grocery in SoHo, not far from the Wall Street district, wouldn’t take money from passersby, unless it was in payment for one of his drawings or paintings, many of cats and tigers. Hattendorf shot closeups of the arist working with dirt-covered hands on his often playful images. For months, Hattendorf walked by the old man’s spot — she lived nearby — and engaged the artist.

She found if she had her camera, he would open up and tell stories.

Then 9/11 happened.

Amidst the suddenly gray, ashen desolation of lower Manhattan, Hattendorf found the old man in his usual spot, and made a decision that would change both their lives. She decided to give him shelter, and took him home to live in her cramped apartment. Over the months when she helped him reconnect with society, she discovered the old man’s incredible story.

The documentary she produced, “The Cats of Miriktani,” is an amazing chronicle of a life journey for both Tsutomu “Jimmy” Mirikitani and Hattendorf.
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