Jiro Dreams of Sushi is the story of 85 year-old Jiro Ono, considered by many to be the world’s greatest sushi chef. Sure, my initial interest to this documentary (that is currently playing at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, if you live locally go support the film) was due to my love of sushi, however it’s appeal shouldn’t be limited to foodies or sushi fans. As his son Yoshikazu faces the pressures of stepping into his father’s shoes and taking over the legendary restaurant, Jiro relentlessly pursues his lifelong quest to create the perfect piece of sushi. There’s no secret recipe, just a matter of working as hard as you can and learning how to taste, and doing it over and over.
I was truly inspired by a man’s pursuit of perfection, the dedications of the understudies, the family dynamic between father and son, and the cultural beauty of Japanese crafts. Director David Gelb, a sushi lover since childhood, came up with the idea of making a film about the best chef around. He consulted with food critic Masuhiro Yamamoto, who claims to have eaten in hundreds of Tokyo sushi restaurants and says Jiro is the best! One thing that I learned from our staff writer Constantine of her travels in Japan last year, is she told me there are still some trivial matters in gender roles in the East. It was quite evident in this film as well. Apparently it’s a man’s world, still, at least in Tokyo. I have no idea how accurately the movie portrays this aspect of the business, but I saw no women in the kitchens.
Shockingly, there is even a method to the gender bias madness! Jiro even admits to his customers in one scene that he gives the women smaller portions so everyone can finish at the same time and faciliate the next course in the tasting menu. It also shows the interesting side of consumers in Japan. In one scene, a man will buy only the best tuna on offer; if he doesn’t get it, he buys nothing else. A workaholic from a young age, it’s clear that Jiro has made numerous sacrifices along the way. He even acknowledges at one point that he wasn’t much of a father to his children. Another interesting look behind the event of business was a scene illustrating one assistant preparing egg sushi that was not up to the master’s standards 200 times over a four-month period. The first time Ono said it met the mark, the man cried.
When I got the invitation to go to this film, I was extremely hesitant and worried as to what I was going to be viewing. Even to go so far as to accept the impending nap I was about to have. Boy, was I wrong. I haven’t been floored by a film like this since 2007’s Up the Yangtze. The cinematography was elegant, the music varied and interesting, the precision of the art of making sushi, the rigor and discipline to do it well, the requirement to be surrounded by others who always want to excel. A wonderful film and I’ll see it again…and again. While Jiro may dream of sushi, I dream only of seeing great films like these that not only educate, but also attribute to cultural eye-opening experiences everyone should encounter.