Jiro Dreams of Sushi Directed by: David Gelb Documentary Running Time: 1 hr 21 mins Rating: PG Release Date: April 6, 2012 (Chicago)
PLOT: A documentary about an 85-year-old man's world-renowned passion for making sushi, and the legacy he will pass on to his two sons.
WHO'S IT FOR? Having a particular appetite for sushi is not required to enjoy this doc, though knowledge of the delicacy might make Jiro and his creations even more monumental.
"It is beautiful to create," says Jiro, Japan's sensei of sushi.
As shown in Jiro Dreams of Sushi, there's also a certain beauty in laying witness to a person's impassioned creativity, and to hear them talk romantically about an act of love that they have been able to happily devote their entire life to. To witness such pure devotion to a job that provides endless happiness is equally inspiring and fulfilling to our own souls.
Here is a human being who has found how to make the most out of his life. He has unlocked the mystery of harmony between life, love, and employment that we all try to figure out when forming how we want to spend our time alive.
Here is a man who is living his dream.
Working from early in the morning until late at night, 85-year-old Jiro Ono is considered by many to be the world's greatest sushi chef. Fitting to his humbling personality, his sole restaurant Sukiyabashi Jiro only serves ten customers at a time, and is located under Tokyo in a subway stop. However, with such a worldwide prominence (and a rare 3-Star Michelin review), Ono's business requires reservations to be made months in advance, with each entree from the restaurant’s sushi-only menu coming at a very high price.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi captures sushi-making as an art form, and finds a wealthy amount of tantalizing content to be shared about both the art and the artist. Many of these different perspectives provide a picture of how Jiro’s massive passion has heavily influenced the work ethic of others. With the help of a small group of apprentices, Jiro makes much of the delicacies himself, in front of his customers. Meticulous enough to massage an octopus for 45 minutes to make sure its texture is chewy enough, Jiro’s kitchen schooling runs with the same intensity – ten years of experience is required before any chef can handle the eggs.
Jiro’s influence is certainly felt on his inheritors, as interviews with Jiro’s sons Yoshikazu and Takashi provide an intimate perspective on how Jiro’s love for sushi making affected the relationship he had with them as a father. The focus on the sons (the youngest, Takashi has his own restaurant, while the eldest Yoshikazu still works for his father) provides Jiro Dreams of Sushi with an appealing desire for an epilogue. This documentary is not only about a man’s dominant desire to make perfect sushi, but the intimidating height of the bar that even his sons may not ever reach.
The pièces de résistance of Jiro Dreams of Sushi are the spellbinding moments in which we watch Jiro handcraft his award-winning sushi. These delicious moments are filmed with a strongly cinematic sense, utilizing slow motion and acute focus, as accompanied by a very Philip Glassy Philip Glass score (with rushing string arpeggios and all). The amount of these segments is even properly portioned so as to not leave the viewer desiring more or less. Witnessing these scenes, viewers can see director Gelb pursuing the same perfection within his craft that so presents such a subject. Just as Jiro carefully uses his hands in a specific manner to mold each specialized piece of sushi, so does Gelb find the fitting aesthetic for which to present the dreamy food’s creation.
First-time director Gelb has picked a very appealing topic, with unique intellectual flavor, but his own skills can’t even stand in the same room as Jiro’s sushi mastery. Though no discredit to Gelb not being a “master director,” but imagine if this film about a master were to be directed by someone hailed in the film world as a cinematic maestro? What a beautiful marriage of art forms that would be (like Wim Wenders’ 2011 documentary Pina, for example).
As the film progresses, a glaring sloppiness (especially when compared to Jiro’s skill) becomes apparent as Gelb tries to fill his 81-minute time frame with fatty chapters in the Jiro story that could have cut off entirely. A scene that rants about the lowering numbers in the fish population feels structurally out of place (even for a film about sushi), and a meeting with old school friends only conveys Jiro as a regular adorable old Japanese man, with adorable old friends. For rookie measure, there’s even a dull shot of weak poetry that captures Jiro walking in slow motion, against the crowd; it is easily the cheapest shot in a film that is otherwise visually rich. Even for a running time of 81 minutes, Jiro Dreams of Sushi manages to be overlong with extraneous scenes that don’t immediately correlate to the movie’s thesis of passion.
Jiro Ono embodies the concept of how the never-ending pursuit for perfection will always lead to improvement, regardless of how many years he has been making sushi, or how much praise he has been given for his work. Though lovingly crafted in some parts, this rookie director’s documentary about Jiro’s immeasurable pursuit for extreme quality becomes an example itself of the focus required on the journey towards excellence.
FINAL SCORE: 5/10