Director: David Gelb
Starring: Jiro Ono, Yoshikazu Ono
Jiro Dreams of Sushi is the story of Jiro Ono, widely recognized as the greatest sushi chef in the world. His sushi restaurant, inconspicuously located beneath a Tokyo subway, is a small 10 seat counter that requires customers to prepare reservations a month in advance and pay upwards of 30,000 yen, or roughly $300 for a typically 15 minute meal. At 85 years of age, Jiro Ono is a perfectionist that continually strives to perfect his sushi, his art. Working with him are his eldest son, Yoshikazu, and a skilled group of apprentices. Living in the shadow of his father for many years, Yoshikazu has a lot of legacy in which to live up as the eventual successor of the restaurant. The film is a profile of Jiro and the restaurant, showcasing the talents of everyone there and the meticulousness of Jiro that has brought the restaurant worldwide recognition.
The film uses many of the typical techniques in documentary films; talking heads, narration, and ‘day in the life’ segments. Considering the film’s trailer, I was worried that the film would be nothing more than a lionization of Jiro Ono, albeit in a succulent package. That being the case, I was lad to see that by his own admission, Jiro felt that he was not as good a father as he could have been, mostly because of his work in his restaurant. Also, an intriguing talk with Yoshikazu sheds light on his aspirations before working in his father’s shop and how far off dreams of youth can be to the roads of life. Yoshikazu seems a bit of a tragic character, but I’m happy to say that revelations later in the film indicate that he perhaps chose wisely in his life choices.
There is a clear analogy between Jiro’s work and that of a classical composer creating a symphony. From the liberal use of classical music to the photography of his hands moving similarly to that of a conductor’s baton, indeed, Jiro Ono is to sushi as Tchaikovsky was to classical music. This is most evident in an extended series of shots demonstrating Jiro’s specialized course order, a series of sushi that is served in such timing and order so as to maximize the flavor of each piece in its certain place. Like movements in a composition, by the end of the series, the customer has experienced a variety of tastes designed to bring them to the peak of satisfaction at meals’ end. This sequence is among the most hunger inducing and I challenge the viewer who loves sushi to watch it without licking their lips.
The photography of the film is fantastic with shots of the workers’ hands shown to demonstrate the mastery of their skills. There is use of a variety of camera techniques that brilliantly illustrate the hustle and bustle of the preparation area; and speed and slo-mo shots to show nuances of practiced ease that would not be noticeable otherwise. There is a beauty in their food preparation that is difficult to describe, most simply; it is mesmerizing. The editing is very good as well, it has to be if the documentary is to be good, as I always say. Interesting cuts and the occasional lingering shot were clearly crafted to show true emotion and the care that goes into the reputation of the restaurant and attention to detail.
“What defines deliciousness?” These opening words to the film seem apt for my conclusion to my review. In the world of Japanese cuisine, sushi is indeed the most recognized and iconic from the small island country. Jiro Dreams of Sushi is both a lovesong to the cuisine and tribute to the man and family that has influenced this centuries old meal and transformed it from roadside stall food to internationally recognized quality fine dining. Intimate and well produced, Jiro Dreams of Sushi is an engaging, mouth-watering, and hugely entertaining film that will leave even those that do not care for sushi, marveling at the craftsmanship of the ‘art’ of sushi. “What defines deliciousness?” In terms of documentaries, Jiro Dreams of Sushi is one of the most delicious trips to the cinema I’ve ever had.
You may like Jiro Dreams of Sushi if you enjoyed: Tampopo or Udon