April 29, 2007

To Save One Soul

I bopped over to Real Art Ways this evening to catch The Cats of Mirikitani, a film by Linda Hattendorf.

What a stunning, sad, and beautiful film. A film about a great wrong. A film about our present condition. A film about a great Mitzvah. A film about salvation.

Filmmaker Linda Hattendorf befriends homeless artist (or "great master artist", as he proclaims) Jimmy Mirikitani on the streets of New York in early 2001. After the 9/11 attacks, as the streets of their neighborhood become toxic, she brings him into her home. There is a stunning piece of film, as the 4th wall falls, and she brings herself into the documentary with a reflected shot of herself filming herself using a storefront window.

In the next year, Linda Hattendorf gains a roommate. As she slowly resurrects Jimmy from 20+ years of living on the streets, she begins to draw out his story - born in Sacramento, lived in Japan (Hiroshima) prior to WWII, returned to the US rather than serve in the Japanese navy, interned for 3.5 years at Tule Lake.

It is a film about art - Jimmy's art which has sustained his spirit all these years, Linda's art in film, drawing her into this story far more than she could have imagined, and into this man's life. It is a film about how this country sinned grievously during WWII, and, watching the gung-ho patriotism and drumbeat to war in the days following the 9/11 attacks through Jimmy's eyes, we see clearly how obviously the sins were being repeated. But above all this - it is a film about salvation. Jimmy is a homeless street artist, one bad winter storm or physical attack away from death and obscurity, when we meet him in 2001. At the film's end, he is a very different person.

I want you to see this film. I sat entranced, I sat with tears welling up in my eyes - for the beauty of the art, the shame at the crimes of my country, the love and generosity of this filmmaker for a stranger. Mostly, to witness one person can change the world. Your spirit will be opened and lightened. The world will become a slightly better place.

At Real Art Ways through May 3rd. Or, via the PBS series Independent Lens, starting May 8th. Better on the big screen to better appreciate Mr. Mirikitani's art - but see it however you can.

No comments: