April 24, 2008
The Cats of Mirikitani
Reviewer: James van Maanen
Rating (out of 5): ****½
Until she made this extraordinary documentary debut in 2006 (at the Tribeca Film Fest), Linda Hattendorf had labored mostly as a film editor; her best-known work was probably on Josh Pais’ 7th Street and Danny Schechter’s In Debt We Trust. Then The Cats of Mirikitani [official site] was released to enormous critical acclaim, winning every one of the fifteen awards for which it was nominated at festivals worldwide. Still, it was not much seen by the general public. Its DVD release this month should slowly remedy that, especially with good word of mouth.
Cats/Mirikitani is a model--not just of what a fine documentary can be: quietly encompassing as it slowly unravels its mysteries, finally breaking like a benign Tsunami over its subject, its city and the world beyond—but also a model for life. Without one moment of preaching, the movie demonstrates what a single person can accomplish by calling into action her own strength and decency, and then that of government agencies, friends and family. This sort of thing rarely happens, in life or in film, but it surely does here. And just as artist Jimmy Mirikitani, the subject of the film, profits from this, so will you.
The movie opens on a homeless man, not the most promising subject to hold most viewers' attention. Within a very few minutes, however, Hattendorf has managed to open an emotional/intellectual door. You walk through, and you're hooked. I won't say anymore about the content; taking in more than 65 years of American and Japanese history, it is simply too good, too surprising, to spoil. But Hattendorf’s presence in the film is a model of precision and gravity. We see very little of her; though she is clearly there, behind the camera, she is never intrusive.
We see more of the filmmaker (though certainly not too much) in the DVD's Special Features, which I recommend, even if they finally do not add extensively to the power of the film. Hattendorf was wise not to include them in the actual movie; they are interesting and enrich our further understanding of Mr. Mirikitani, but the 75 minutes of movie we've already seen is so spectacularly on-target that anything more simply gilds the lily.
Posted by cphillips at April 24, 2008 11:59 AM