Everyone was surprised when Jiro Ono’s tiny sushi restaurant earned itself three Michelin stars. Three Michelin stars means it’s worth travelling to a country for the sole purpose of eating at that restaurant.
Situated in the basement of an office building, under Ginza station, with a shop front so modest you’d walk past without a second glance, Jiro’s restaurant is hardly the image of opulence. Moreover, the place seats a maximum of ten people at a time. And he only serves sushi. Beautiful, simple sushi that you can immediately pop into your mouth with your fingers, in the traditional style, or lift delicately with chopsticks.
Directed by David Gelb, Jiro Dreams of Sushi is an intimate documentary about how Jiro Ono came to be regarded as arguably the world’s greatest sushi chef, and about how his legacy has influenced his two sons. Jiro, who came from poor beginnings, was on his own and working from the of nine. His success is the fruit of hard work, hard-earned talent, unflagging passion, and long hours in the kitchen. Throughout the film, Jiro’s almost inhuman work ethic and single-minded dedication to his craft astound the viewer. Is this what it takes to make a shokunin, a master of an art? To never take a holiday; to become bored with idleness? To be unable to retire at the age of 86, even after you’ve suffered a heart attack? Suddenly the fact that his sushi is so perfect doesn’t seem so surprising.
The best parts of the documentary involve Jiro’s two sons. The elder, Yoshikazu, works at Jiro’s restaurant. He cycles to the fish markets in the cold, wet mornings to scout for fresh produce. He trains the apprentices and often makes the sushi. He knows his role is to take over his father’s restaurant after Jiro passes on. He wishes, out loud, that his father “could make sushi forever.” Jiro, on the other hand, when talking about handing over his business to Yoshikazu, remarks with a simple matter-of-fact tone, “He will just have keep doing it for the rest of his life.” There is an eerie sense grace and acceptance in their words.
The film has moments of wonderful, bittersweet quotes. The cinematography is simple, bare and elegant. The close-up shots of faces and the subtle few seconds that the camera lingers on their expressions after they’ve said something–they really made the show, for me. The soundtrack is a feast for the ears, particularly the scene where the experience of eating at Jiro’s restaurant is compared to listening to a concerto.
In a few short decades, sushi has gone from being an obscure, exotic dish to a mainstream fast food. Jiro Dreams of Sushi reminds us to be aware that our natural resources are not infinite. Without tightly regulated fishing laws in place, the numbers of fish in our oceans dwindle. It’s an important call to be less consumptive and more conscientious.