‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’: Satisfying

March 7, 2012


You shouldn’t see “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” on an empty stomach.

Indeed, you should have sushi in ready proximity once you have seen this fascinating look at the world’s greatest sushi chef. And it better be good.

Directed by David Gelb,”Jiro Dreams of Sushi” is a documentary portrait of Jiro Ono, Tokyo’s most acclaimed sushi chef. Ono, whose 10-seat restaurant is tucked away on the subway concourse under a Ginza office building, has been awarded three Michelin stars.

Ono, 85 at the time the film was shot, has devoted more than a half –century to his art – and it is an art. Yet he refuses to stop working, heading to his small kitchen each day in hopes of making sushi that is a little better than the day before.

His reputation means that he has access to the finest fish in the Tokyo market. But it also means that he’s lived a life so devoted to his work and his business that he was a virtual stranger to his children when they were growing up.

Now his oldest son, Yoshikazu, still works for him, training the other kitchen staff and sushi apprentices and doing the actual fish shopping (since Jiro had a heart attack when he was 70). Japanese culture dictates that the oldest son follow the father into his business – which is why Yoshikazu’s younger brother, who also apprenticed with his father, split off and opened his own restaurant.

The family dynamic is fascinating, at once loving and distant, intimate and at arm’s length. What unites them is the quest to serve the perfect piece of fish – and then to do it again, even better.

Gelb’s attention to the food itself is mouth-watering to say the least. His photography of each piece of sushi is tantalizing; he captures what feels like a banquet of sushi close to the end of the film, with piece after just-made piece being set before the camera in rapid succession. It is indeed a feast for the eyes.

But Jiro is also about finding one’s passion. And not just following it – but making it your life’s work. He talks about how unimaginable he finds it that someone would hate their job, because he is so immersed in his. The Jiro that Gelb presents is so caught up in his work that he literally has dreams about new ways to make sushi.

“Jiro Dreams of Sushi” joins the pantheon of the great films about food – documentary, fiction or otherwise.

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