Linda Hattendorf first noticed Jimmy Mirikitani on the first day of 2001; It was freezing cold in the streets of Manhattan’s Soho, and he was sleeping under many layers of clothing, in front of a grocery store. She went back to see him during the day, and agreed to “buy” one his drawings in exchange for taking a photograph of him, which was the payment he requested; thus began a strange, intimate relationship between an Ohio-born, New York film editor and an 80-year-old, homeless, Japanese-American man. Starting with that first encounter, when she brought her video camera to take the promised picture of Mirikitani, Hattendorf documented their relationship and, eventually, his life. The resulting film, The Cats of Mirikitani, is a treasure of personal filmmaking, created on a shoe-string budget and completely devoid of pretensions or aspirations beyond simple, intimate, storytelling.

As is quickly revealed by an examination of his art, Mirikitani was held in a Japanese internment camp during World War II. Though he communicates only grudgingly, and in English so heavily-accented as to require subtitles, Mirikitani is unable to suppress his rage at his internment, an experience that devoured three-and-a-half years of his young life, and severely derailed his artistic dreams. “Stupid government,” he rages, over and over again, filled with indignation at the injustice of what was done to him and the over 18,000 others who occupied the Tule Lake camp. His US citizenship -- Mirikitani was born in Sacramento and returned to Japan when was three -- makes him even more incredulous about the internment, and the fact that he was aggressively asked to renounce that citizenship while in the camp (something he, along with 70% of his camp-mates, did) leaves him with an understandable disgust of most thing related to the American government.