Jiro Dreams of Sushi ***1/2
Jiro Ono is essentially considered the greatest living sushi chef on the planet, and this unassuming, very warm documentary takes a close look at the man, his restaurant, his admirers, his methods, and, perhaps most pertinently, his staff, which includes not only apprentices and established Shokunin (sushi chefs) but also his oldest son, Yoshikazu, who will one day take over the business – most likely only when Jiro is dead, for Jiro, 85, has absolutely no plans to retire, ever.
Jiro’s restaurant has three Michelin Hats, ten seats, and a starting price tag for a meal – which consists of twenty pieces of sushi – of $300. There are no appetisers; indeed, there’s no other food than sushi, and there are no choices – Jiro makes you what he can from the best fish available that morning at Tokyo’s famous Fish Market.
Jiro, Yoshikazu and the other characters we meet throughout the film are all warm, polite, and extremely dedicated to their craft, and, given their status as the best in the world, are worthy subjects for a slender documentary. Although mention is made of Jiro’s hardcore training regimen and “bad days”, we never see any side of Jiro other than that of kindly, incredible Grand master, and nothing is said about him by anyone in the film that does not infer anything but the highest respect. That’s okay, though; you’re not looking for conflict in a movie like this; you’re looking for a portrait of an artist and the depiction of an art, and we get all that in spades.
Director David Gelb, wielding his own camera (he’d have to – Jiro’s restaurant really is tiny!) takes us deep into the Fish Market, including some fascinating scenes of the fish vendors choosing their fish in the very early mornings and bidding for them at auction. We also follow Jiro on a little trip to see some old friends. For the most part, however, we’re in Jiro’s little restaurant, watching the sushi get prepared, finessed, and served. It’s not high action, but it’s loving, and you’ll want some – very good – sushi afterwards.
I found the film just nourishing enough for its slim 81 minutes. It’s an interesting exploration of a particular aspect of Japanese culture, which is fathers and sons working together. It’s a very likeable film, and sometimes, that’s enough. If you’re a Japanophile or a sushi nut, you’ll likely be in heaven.