Sunday, August 19, 2012

Movie Review: Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Jiro Dreams of Sushi
Directed by: David Gelb.

Jiro Ono had to leave home at the age of 7 to fend for himself. He never really saw his parents again after this point in his life, but eventually he does find his calling – sushi. He apprenticed for years, before finally becoming a master in his own right. Now, at the age of 85, he is widely regarded as the greatest sushi chef in Japan – which, of course, means he is the greatest sushi chef in the world. He has an almost unthinkably small restaurant – just 10 chairs lined up at the bar. The starting price for a meal at his restaurant is 30,000 yen (roughly $300), and you are in and out in about 20 minutes. Jiro serves nothing but sushi – you get 15 to 20 pieces in one sitting. His methods are well known and simple – it`s just that no one quite does it like Jiro does. And he has no plans to stop, unless he is physically unable to do so. He hates vacation and holidays.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi has become an art house hit, and it`s easy to see why. Jiro is a funny, charming, happy man and the documentary is easy going, light entertainment that makes even someone like me, who likes sushi but doesn’t love it, want to go out and get some. The sushi we see during the course looks delicious, and will certainly make you hungry. In some ways, the movie reminded me of last year`s audience charmer Bill Cunningham New York. Both films are about men obsessed with their jobs, but seem truly happy doing what they love. And good for them.

But Jiro Dreams of Sushi has a sad undercurrent to it, that Bill Cunningham New York did not have, and that`s because unlike Cunningham, Jiro has a family. We never meet Jiro`s wife during the course of the movie, but it`s never clear why. Is it because she didn’t want to be interviewed, or more likely, that she has so little to do with his life that she would not be relevant to the movie. We do meet his two sons however – sons that Jiro proudly brags that he convinced not to go to college and instead to follow him into the family business. The younger one left his father`s employ to start his own restaurant, and says that many of his customers tell him they come to his restaurant because he serves the same sushi as Jiro, but in a more relaxed atmosphere. When the older brother, who still works for his father, is asked if he was jealous that his younger brother opened his own restaurant, he replies simply “In Japan, it is expected that the oldest son take over his father`s position”. Oddly, it seems like the older son may have even surpassed Jiro in terms of his skills – when the Michelin judges, who ultimately awarded Jiro their highest grade of three stars, it was the older son, and not Jiro, was the one who served them. And yet, it is Jiro who gets the praise and the rave reviews. It isn’t really Jiro`s fault – he praises his sons, and all the apprentices he employs.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi is an interesting and fun documentary. If you ever want to know how to make sushi – and follow the process from the fish market to the table, than this movie will take you through that process in the company of a master. Jiro is happy – and well he should be, as he has made a success of himself, and refuses to compromise his own exacting standards. Yet there is also something sad about this story – and that sticks with me even more than all that delicious looking sushi.

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