YIDFF 2007 YIDFF Network Special Screenings
The Cats of Mirikitani
An Interview with Masa Yoshikawa (Producer)

Peace Cats Are Smiling

Q: What lead you to produce this film?

MY: It would be more accurate to say that I became a producer after the fact, as a result of the filmmaking process. There is a story about how this all began. I attended a seminar for filmmakers in New York City and in the elevator on my way back after the seminar, somebody asked me, “Are you Japanese? Can you talk Japanese? I need help from somebody who can . . .” This person who asked me for help was the director Linda Hattendorf. Linda had met Jimmy (Mirikitani) on the street just a month before. She was looking for somebody to translate the Japanese captions in the pictures and notes that she had been receiving from Jimmy. It was a snowball effect from that point on. Not much later, I started to film too, and I ended up being called producer along with Linda.

Q: Watching the film, I didn’t get the impression that the footage was shot to be used for a documentary film. Is it reasonable for me to say that?

MY: Sure. We did not shoot the film for the sake of a project. Rather, we found a project from the footage we took. The first scene we shot was a request from Jimmy, and from that point on a lot of things occurred that we could never have planned for, including 9/11. We just went with the flow, and when we ended up with about 200 hours worth of images, we decided to compile the whole thing into a film. The natural feel of the film probably comes from the fact that we did what we did.

Q: What role do you think a producer plays in a documentary film?

MY: I have no idea! You could say that this film was shot for personal purposes. As staff, there was me, Linda, and our editor Ms. Deguchi, who we hired during the editing phase. Linda and I did everything. I can tell you that one important part of a producer’s role is being able to raise money. In the USA, there are many foundations and funds that give money to documentary films. The only thing is that the USA produces an extraordinary number of documentary films, many more than Japan. With the introduction of Mini DVs, now anybody can just pick up a camera and make one. So the competition for getting an endowment these days is very intense. We had to fill out many applications for funding. For this film, we applied for funding 3 times to the same organization before getting accepted. We shot the film from 2001 until mid-2002, but we were not able to finish the film until the spring of 2006 because it took so much time and effort to secure funds for this project.

Q: From your perspective, did Jimmy change?

MY: Oh yes. I think you will notice watching the film that his countenance changes dramatically from the beginning of the film to the end. He used to have a stern, scary looking face, but towards the end of the film, his expressions become gentle. If you meet him in person now, he looks gentler than ever before. His posture even changed. He seems to be happier every time we meet him. Many people watched this film and learned about him. He is grateful for Linda’s work as he finds more people who are interested in what he has to say. I hear him rant less about Japanese-Americans and the government being this and that, and hear more of him reflecting on past memories.

(Compiled by Yusa Yoko)

Interviewer: Yusa Yoko / Translator: Paul Mikaelsen
Photography: Yusa Yoko / Video: Yusa Yoko / 2007-09-12 / in Tokyo