Does that image look mouth-watering? Gorgeous and delicious? Can you stop salivating? No? Neither can I.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a celebration of, well, sushi. If you are not aware of the art of sushi-making, this documentary will be an eye-opening experience. For people new to food culture of Japan, I think it's a huge dose of delicious, right up front, and it's gorgeous.
But what Jiro Dreams of Sushi truly offers is the things beyond those high-definition shots of possibly the world's best tasting sushi. It's about the way this old man has lived, and the kind of culture of excellence that perpetrates the Japanese thought. Click on and get fed!
Jiro Dreams of Sushi
Like our Flixist review, we're smitten by Jiro's fidelity and its proclamation of excellence in its most intense but humble way. Director David Gleb's cinematography brings out the best out of his subjects, but in an equally subtle way that lacked garnish that would have deemed inappropriate. Instead, what we see is a simple man and his pursuit of excellence through equally simple but extremely precise and thorough exercise of his craft.
For those of us who know of Jiro Ono--he is famous, after all--we already know that he is the first three-star Michelin chef, and he is a national treasure. Even his apprentices are top-billing restaurateurs after they have left Jiro's tutelage. Perhaps what is less surprising is seeing, in the film, that his hole-in-the-wall sushi bar bills 30,000 yen per person, starting. Is that too expensive for about 15-20 pieces of sushi, in which if you're in a hurry, can finished eating in 15 minutes? Does it put Manhattan's high-roller places to shame? I have no idea, but I suspect money is no longer what motivates this 85-year-old national treasure.
In the trailer for Jiro Dreams of Sushi we are posited a potential issue with a man like Jiro's fame and skill--just who can possibly follow up on his act? When, or if, he retires? Or worse? The trailer also shows his elder son, Yoshikazu, working alongside his father, doing what any dutiful Japanese elder son would. It is expected that this nidaime to take over after the inevitable retirement of Jiro, and carry the name and fame that is left with him. In a way this underlying issue pervades the latter half of the film--equally pressing is just how will the craft of sushi sustain itself? How does over-fishing and environmental devastation affect Jiro and his operation? How will Japan's aging post-war generation of hard-working experts and talents find their replacements?
In the actual film we also see Yoshikazu's younger brother, who owns a branch restaurant in nearby Roppongi Hills, serving similar if inferior (and by that I mean you probably can't tell the difference) morsels. It seems that he was catering more to a more traditional clients--those who aren't fond of being stared down by an 85-year-old, world-famous sushi chef and his equally stern expression. Those who might be more comfortable dining in a roomier establishment may find the branch store more welcoming.
And yes, Jiro looks at you when you eat--this way he can adjust his servings to best meet his customers' needs. In the film, we see the attention to detail Jiro pays to his patrons--from serving different sizes portions to people with different appetites, serving lefties from the opposite side than righties, and even the order of seating the parties is scrutinized before every meal. There are countless other details from the very first bite one takes at Jiro's up to the special rice dealers Jiro buys from, or the various special dealers in the area in which Jiro and Yoshikazu visit for their daily supplies.
From the tuna auctions of Tsukiji fish market to Jiro's childhood home, Jiro Dreams of Sushi paints a picture of a Japanese man who has dedicated his life to the creation of sushi. It's amazing that even at his old age that he still has identified ways to improve his craft. One of his ex-students have confessed as much: if Jiro wasn't the representation of the pinnacle of sushi-making, then nobody is.
I'm not sure how played-up are these different stories about sushi, the culture of being perfect, the narrative about the aging population of Japan, and the all-too-familiar nidaime story (not unlike a certain Studio Ghibli director and his son, for that matter). I think it's those undercurrents to the film that gave it something credible and something to think about, without being outright obvious about them. But I will always talk up this film for its gorgeous images of super-delicious sushi, and director David Gelb's biggest challenge in filming it.
8.5 - Great. A delicious story about the best raw fish you'll ever eat, and the men behind it.
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