Synopsis: Jiro Dreams Of Sushi is the story of 85 year-old Jiro Ono, considered by many to be the world’s greatest sushi chef. He is the proprietor of Sukiyabashi Jiro, a 10-seat, sushi-only restaurant inauspiciously located in a Tokyo subway station. Despite its humble appearances, it is the first restaurant of its kind to be awarded a prestigious 3 star Michelin review, and sushi lovers from around the globe make repeated pilgrimage, calling months in advance and shelling out top dollar for a coveted seat at Jiro’s sushi bar.
Jiro Dreams Of Sushi is a thoughtful and elegant meditation on work, family, and the art of perfection, chronicling Jiro’s life as both an unparalleled success in the culinary world, and a loving yet complicated father.
eyelights: Jiro’s phenomenal focus. the gorgeous-looking sushi.
eyesores: the limited scope of the documentary.
‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’ is a documentary on the singular focus of sushi chef Jiro Ono, and the impact that his consummate devotion to his craft has had on his family and colleagues.
It’s not a biography in the proper sense; it doesn’t delve into Jiro’s back history much, only providing a short glimpse at his childhood. For the most part, the film is set in the present, observing the 85-year old master’s life.
To get a variety of perspectives on the man and his work, ‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’ interviews food critics, Jiro’s staff, his two sons, Takashi and Yoshikazu, as well as the man himself. We also get to watch Jiro at work, making sushi and serving his customers, watching them intently as they savour his creations.
One gets the sense that the man is a perfectionist to a degree rarely seen in North America: he has a clear routine that he’s kept for decades and only makes simple sushi – no side-dishes or anything of the sort. His ultimate goal, the incremental improvement of his art.
His is such precision that he even adapts his serving style to the diners’ handedness, takes only the long road instead of shortcuts in the preparation of his food, and limits the available space to only ten people at one time. There is a seriousness to his work that is awe-inspiring.
It’s highly demanding stuff. It takes ten years for any of the apprentices to move up slightly, and the work can be grueling. Jiro is said to have been so consumed with his work that his children once asked their mother who the stranger on the couch was, having seen him so rarely.
Takashi and Yoshikazu’s lives are affected in other ways too: raised with traditional Japanese values, the eldest is expected to take over his father’s business when he retires, whereas the other was obligated to learn the craft himself, and now owns his own sushi restaurant. At 50, Yoshikazu is still waiting for his father to retire.
The film is filled with breathtakingly beautiful shots of sushi. Director David Gelb originally planned to make a documentary on sushi, and his passion for the food leaps off the screen when it comes time to highlight Jiro’s work – every piece of sushi is gorgeously shot, rightly presented as art.
I know I might be biased in appreciating this portrait of what appears to be an unflinchingly OCD human being, having similar attributes (to a far lesser degree, thankfully), but I respect the way that Jiro has managed to stay so incredibly focused all these years, refining his touch to the point that he one of the world’s best.
Even though it doesn’t have much replay value, being spare on detail, I really enjoyed ‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’ and would easily recommend it. Anyone who likes japanese culture and/or is impressed by watching masters at their craft will likely get a taste for it too.
Date of viewing: March 15, 2013