Giovanni's Movie Review: JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI
Published: March 8, 2012 - 9:30am
Too often, people feel they have to compromise their dreams just to survive. The result is a slew of people working jobs merely for a paycheck, feeling entirely unfulfilled by their profession. Jiro Ono is not one of those people. When he was young, Jiro wanted to make sushi for a living. Now at age 85, he’s considered one of the best sushi chefs in the world, running a highly successful and critically acclaimed restaurant. Sometimes dreams do come true.
His story is now documented in David Gelb’s debut documentary feature, Jiro Dreams of Sushi. Gelb presents a look into Jiro’s life, filming the chef in his natural habitat. Much of the film takes place inside his miniscule 10-seat restaurant, with him and his team walking the cameras through all of the steps involved with making amazing food. Despite the fact that the sushi is renowned for its simplicity, the process behind making it is incredibly complex. You don’t have to be a culinary expert or even a fan of sushi to appreciate how much passion goes into something so simple as slicing a tuna.
But the appeal of the film doesn’t come from the cooking education. As it turns out, Jiro is a surprisingly compelling subject for a film. His absolute commitment to what he does is inspiring, making him one of the best cinematic role models in recent history. He believes that devoting tireless effort to your job and becoming a master is the way to achieve happiness. And considering how happy and lively Jiro still looks after 75 years of making sushi, he might have a point.
Gelb also branches out, finding many interesting story threads surrounding Jiro. There’s the tale of his son Yoshikazu trying to climb out from under his father’s shadow and become a renowned chef himself. There’s a glimpse into the world Japan’s fish sellers and markets. And there’s the stories of the men who work under Jiro, each trying their hardest to impress the master. But almost every piece ties neatly back into the theme of perfecting one’s craft. It’s a film about hard work that is meticulously crafted itself.
One particularly interesting element to the documentary is the pairing of a 75-year master and first time feature filmmaker. Jiro is a fitting subject for Gelb to follow as he begins his career. Of course, he’s far from perfect on his first outing. He stretches for story elements towards the end, awkwardly plopping in an environmental message out of left field. But he’s off to a very strong start with Jiro Dreams of Sushi. If he follows the wisdom Jiro has imparted onto him, Gelb could easily become a master of the documentary.
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.
For most of his life, Jiro has been mastering the art of making sushi, but even at his age he sees himself still striving for perfection, working from sunrise to well beyond sunset to taste every piece of fish; meticulously train his employees; and carefully mold and finesse the impeccable presentation of each sushi creation. At the heart of this story is Jiro’s relationship with his eldest son Yoshikazu, the worthy heir to Jiro’s legacy, who is unable to live up to his full potential in his father’s shadow.
The feature film debut of director David Gelb, 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.