What started out as a project about the drawings of homeless SoHo street artist and cat-lover Jimmy Mirikitani turned into a quest to save a man from his present and from his past when filmmaker Linda Hattendorf found Mirikitani coughing on an empty street on the evening of September 11, 2001, with no place to go for shelter. Hattendorf invited him into her house, and over the next four months, struggled to find him permanent housing and social services support in the government system that Sacramento-born Mirikitani rejected after his internment at Tule Lake during World War II.

screened with the short film Pilgrimage, about the reclaiming of the Manzanar internment camp as a symbol of Japanese-American history and Asian-American political activism. It looked as though there were a large number of internment survivors in the audience, and their tears were audible when Jimmy Mirikitani returned to Tule Lake for a memorial event in the film. (Tule Lake is where most of the Japanese-Americans in Northern California were sent.)

The gratitude on the part of the audience to the filmmakers for preserving an often-forgotten part of history, and to Linda Hattendorf for reaching out to a fellow human being was palpable, and then to cap it all off, a pleased-as-punch Jimmy Mirikitani grabbed the microphone at the end of the Q&A and sang what sounded like a traditional Japanese song, to cheers all around.

The Cats of Mirikitani and Pilgrimage screen again in San Jose next Saturday.

The Cats of Mirikitani