On Crying at the Movies

The Cats of MirikitaniThis last week, I got a text from Andrea, “I just watched The Cats of Mirikitani and it made ME cry.” Since you don’t know my relationship with Andrea, you probably think this text represents some kind of information about her life or about a film recommendation. It isn’t. It is more along the lines of a dare.

You see, I am a crier. I cry during most films and much else in life and art. It doesn’t take a great artist to get me to laugh, but it takes no artist at all to get me to cry. Andrea, on the other hand, prides herself on her steely exterior strengthened with a withering sarcasm that has been known to bring real men (e.i. not me) to tears. If Andrea cried during a film, she suggests, I may go catatonic for a week.

But is that really true? Isn’t it the case that there are only certain things that can make it through her armor? I know things that will make her cry. So I was not sure she was right.

As I got ready to watch the film, I became more convinced that this film was not going to be the sob-fest that Andrea had indicated. Old homeless artists and concentration camps for Japanese-Americans during World War II: I’d seen it all before. I started watching the film. And I didn’t even make it to the credits, which are less than two minutes into the film, without crying.

The Cats of Mirikitani

The film tells the story of 81 year old Jimmy Mirikitani, a homeless artist who earned his dignified living selling drawings on the street in New York City. After the attacks on the World Trade Center on 9/11, he was left alone on the street inside a cloud of toxic debris. The filmmaker, Linda Hattendorf, took him in and tried to get him some help. This turned out to be harder than you would think, because Mirikitani didn’t want any help from a United States government that he thought of as evil for what it did to him and hundreds of thousands of other Japanese-Americans.[1] Slowly, Mirikitani relented and his life got better.[2]

The first half of this film is very sad, in that “cry your eyes out” way so beloved by people of my ilk. The second half of the film, however, is very uplifting, but in that “cry you eyes out” way so beloved by people of my ilk.It speak to the resilience of the human soul (in that “cry your eyes out” way). And the story is inspiring even after it stops. Mirikitani seems to be doing very well to this day. According to the official website of the film:

Jimmy Mirikitani celebrated his 91st birthday in June 2011. He is feeling good and making art. He still lives in New York, and looks forward to attending the next pilgrimage to Tule Lake in July 2012.

I’d say more, but I think I’m going to cry.


The library has the Samurai Trilogy boxed set. I should have it next week. I may not be able to see the San Francisco Opera’s production of Don Giovanni, but life still has its pleasures.

[1] I find it interesting that many people don’t like labels like “Japanese-American” or “Afro-American.” But when a country uses their heritage against people, are we really just supposed to pretend that such distinctions don’t exist and aren’t used in negative ways? Are we to pretend, like Stephen Colbert’s character, that we just don’t see color?

[2] One sign of this is that Mirikitani got to rent Samurai I, the first part of Hiroshi Inagaki’s Samurai Triology starring the great Toshirô Mifune.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

2 thoughts on “On Crying at the Movies

  1. It can also depend on who you’re sharing the story with / watching the movie with. If I’m talking to a mean hardass, I won’t cry when reading an MLK speech. If I’m talking to a kind person, I will.

    I remember seeing the Disney remake of “Mighty Joe Young” with a disabled friend when it came out. This lady had been very badly abused by family members in childhood, and had recurrent nightmares. When she woke up from a nightmare, she’d be soaked in panic sweat, have bodily aches all over. One thing that soothed her was any movie featuring monkeys. She loved monkeys.

    So, naturally, when she saw the TV commercials for “MJY,” she was excited to see it. In the film, the monkey seems to be dead for a bit at the climax. Of course, it’s not dead, this is Disney.

    Well, as the monkey started stirring to life, my friend started bawling uncontrollably. And I did too. I didn’t give a damn about the movie or its story, I was reacting to how my friend was reacting.

    I actually had to take a moment to wipe my face off before we went to the lobby, in case I saw anyone I knew.

    Oh, Lord. The ending of “Sweet Land.” The ending of “Sicko,” where all the poisoned WTC responders finally get treated. I practically have to rehydrate after this stuff. “The Thin Blue Line.” Stop me before I bawl again!

  2. I can recommend a heart-tugger I watched recently – “A Street Cat Named Bob” (2016) – a “based on a true story” flick involving life on the street, rehabilitation and of course a cat. Those who just go for cheap sentiment will ignore the subtext about the massive role that luck plays in our fates.

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