A few years ago when we saw the film The Cats of Mirikitani, my husband and I didn’t imagine we’d ever get to meet the artist Jimmy Mirikitani featured in the film, although we wanted to. Well, thanks to a film screening of The Cats of Mirikitani at the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience on June 28th, we had the honor of finally meeting Mr. Mirikitani who recently turned 92 years old. Jimmy flashed his signature peace sign to remind us to “make art, not war,” serenaded us with a song in Japanese, and captured our hearts with his gentle smile and kind eyes.
We were also able to thank The Cats of Mirikitani director Linda Hattendorf and producer Masa Yoshikawa and hear their personal stories (like that Ms. Hattendorf still resides in the same apartment shown in the film – who isn’t curious about New York apartment stories, right?). During the Q&A, my husband shared with the audience members that his father was born in Manzanar and was therefore deeply moved by this film, and in turn artist Roger Shimomura also opened up to us about his family’s internment camp story.
The Cats of Mirikitani is important on so many levels. It’s important for the Asian American community to have not just a presence in films but a strong voice and point-of-view. It’s important for people to support lower-budget films and the independent spirit. It’s important for those of us who grew up in Asian families where our parents and grandparents didn’t want to speak about their painful pasts to see and hear stories that help us to better understand the complicated layers behind our family stories from their perspective.
And most of all, to me, The Cats of Mirkitani is a powerful example of human connection. Director Linda Hattendorf changed Jimmy Mirikitani and his family’s lives; he in turn changed hers. But what if she had just walked past him thinking he was just another homeless New York street artist? His story is so rich, yet we would never have been enriched by it if she just went about her business like most people do. This film gives me the hope and desire for us to all connect with each other more, to help each other more without expectations, to facilitate positive change in each others’ lives, to be less exclusionary, to be less disparaging, to not look down on homelessness, to find empowerment and give each other strength stemming from hurtful events, and to be more open, loving and connected.
Thank you Jimmy, Linda, Masa, and film crew for sharing this important story. Thank you Wing Luke Museum for giving us a place where we can come together to share, celebrate, learn, and connect. For more photos of Jimmy Mirikitani at Wing Luke Museum (non-amateur like mine), see these from PhotoMura Images.