Director: David Gelb
Starring: Jiro Ono, Yoshikazu Ono
Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a 2011 documentary film, directed by American David Gelb, which charts the career of Jiro Ono, an 85-year-old sushi master. His consummate skill and compelling character prompted Gelb to abandon his initial idea of making a documentary on several sushi chefs with different styles and concentrate solely on the Ono family story, having been introduced to its members by food critic, Masuhiro Yamamoto.
Despite owning Sukiyabashi Jiro, a three-Michelin-star restaurant, Jiro insists he is still on a quest to perfect the art of sushi making and never stops learning. His unpretentious establishment, located in a Tokyo subway station, seats a mere ten customers, but is so popular it boasts a waiting list of one month to dine there.
The film also profiles Jiro’s two sons, both of whom were trained by their father to become accomplished sushi chefs. Takashi, the younger son, left Sukiyabashi Jiro to open a mirror image of his father’s restaurant in Roppongi Hills, while his eldest son, Yoshikazu, in accordance with Japanese tradition, is obliged to succeed his father and take over the family business upon Jiro’s demise.
Given his father’s revered status, Yoshikazu looks frankly terrified by this prospect and even a former apprentice, Mizutani, says that no matter how good Yoshikazu’s sushi is it will only ever be seen as inferior to his father’s.
From the outset, Jiro is portrayed as a strict disciplinarian who expects the same degree of dedication from all his staff that he imposes on himself. We are shown that he is obsessive about routine, even to the point of taking his train from the same position on the platform every day, yet somehow all of this seems acceptable in the light of his sheer perfectionism at work; Jiro even admits to being so immersed in his job that he sees recipe ideas in his dreams. Such is his passion for making sushi, that Jiro only takes days off on national holidays, presumably to appease his staff!
Jiro personally tastes every piece of food that is to be served in his restaurant and the trainee chefs constantly strive to please their master, with one even admitting that he cried after Jiro praised his egg sushi, following approximately 200 failed attempts to meet his exacting standards. Although he reaps all the plaudits, Jiro freely acknowledges that his staff work harder than he does.
Surprisingly, despite his incredibly tough upbringing and obvious self-restraint, Jiro reveals a wry sense of humour, which is especially evident when he visits several old school friends in his hometown, on a rare day off. We sense then that time is running out for them all and they are unlikely ever to meet up again. Jiro’s future passing is symbolised at the end of the film by a train journey into bright light, while Yoshikazu talks about his father’s legacy of knowledge.
In conclusion then, Jiro Dreams Of Sushi is an enjoyable and fitting tribute to this remarkable man.