Like a stray cat, a street artist is saved when he's finally heard

Posted: April 06, 2007

Poignant beyond words, The Cats of Mirikitani is comparable to finding a pearl in a pile of oyster shells.

In 2001, filmmaker Linda Hattendorf encountered street artist Jimmy Mirikitani, 80, huddled under the awning of a corner grocery near her SoHo studio.

Initially, she was drawn by his fanciful sketches of cats. But when Hattendorf listened to what other passersby heard as the ravings of a street person, she made a human and artistic connection. She started filming their encounters, and the result is a compelling journal of their growing intimacy.

And on Sept. 11, 2001, when the neighborhood was shrouded in a smoke cloud, she rescued Jimmy from the street, installing him in her studio.

Cats is many things: a film diary of an odd-couple relationship, a profile of a forgotten man who slowly reconstructs his past, and the transcendently moving account of a man on the margins who gets reintegrated into society.

Hattendorf's filmmaking is so organic that the parallels between the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II and the treatment of Arab Americans after 9/11 is all the more powerful for being implicit.

The Cats of Mirikitani ***1/2 (out of four stars)

Directed by Linda Hattendorf, with Hattendorf and Jimmy Mirikitani. Distributed by Lucid Dreaming.

Running time: 1 hour, 14 mins.

Parent's guide: No MPAA rating (9/11 imagery, Hiroshima imagery)

Playing at: National Constitution Center at 7:15 tonight, and International House at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey

at 215-854-5402 or Read her blog, "Flickgrrl," at

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