Before 9/11, Jimmy Mirikitani was a talented 80-year-old painter who had been failed by the American Dream. Born in California, he was interned along with his family during WWII and stripped of his citizenship. After years of struggle, he found himself living on the streets of New York, painting pictures of Japanese cats. After the destruction of the Twin Towers left lower Manhattan devastated, Jimmy’s future becomes even more uncertain; this is when filmmaker Linda Hattendorf, who’d already begun making a documentary about Mirikitani, invites him to move in with her until he can get back on his feet. Through this unlikely friendship, Jimmy begins working through his troubled past.
By crossing the line from being the director of a doc about Jimmy’s life to a participant in it, Hattendorf was able to create something more unexpected and heartfelt than the typical portrait of an outsider artist. She ably details her subject’s background and troubled psychological state through interviews, while demonstrating how his vibrant work reflects his inner life. Although not overtly political, the film uses Mirikitani’s journey to expose the past flaws and failures of the U.S. government, creating a fresh sense of outrage. Ultimately though, “Cats” is unexpectedly moving – and full of hope.