Jiro Dreams of Sushi

| July 17, 2012

Just like the sushi of which Jiro dreams, the beauty of this documentary from producer/director/cinematographer David Gelb owes in large part to its simplicity. As is the case with many great documentaries, it seems that all Gelb had to do to stir up a great film was to sit down with his wholly fascinating subjects, specifically Jiro Ono and his son Yoshikazu, and shoot. The sushi at Sukiyabashi Jiro relies on an apparent simplicity, and yet, neither his sushi nor a great documentary comes quite so easily. The crafts of both sushi chef and filmmaker deceptively obscure the many years it takes to become a master in either field and to maintain a significant level of mastery over his/her craft.

Jiro, an 85-year-old master sushi chef, operates a 10-seat, sushi-only restaurant out of a subway station in Tokyo. At a cost of 30,000 yen per person (amounting to almost $400 at the time of this review), customers must reserve seats at Jiro’s at least a month in advance, and all for a meal that lasts all of 15 minutes. Yet, it’s worth it, they say, for Jiro’s restaurant holds a 3-star Michelin rating and is the only restaurant of its kind to do so.

Jiro is ultimately a film of and about passion. It focuses, in a general sense, on the eternal quest of great men to achieve perfection– to create one perfect thing. And if we are to believe Jiro Dreams of Sushi, this 10-seat restaurant may be the closest to perfection as any man has come in the development of his craft. With incredible passion and a work ethic beyond that of most men, Jiro spent decades refining his techniques and is now considered by many to be the single greatest sushi chef in the world. And yet, Jiro exclaims, “all I want to do is make better sushi.” So he refuses to retire. In my life, I’ve never encountered a man with such drives as those Jiro expresses in the film, and therein lies the film’s ability to inspire viewers.

With Gelb behind the camera, the film boasts some thoroughly impressive documentary cinematography, even if it is at times a bit fisheye lens-heavy (and no, I don’t think having the word “fish” in the name of the lens alone justifies its extensive use here). The film’s only real flaw is structural in nature. The documentary opens with a strong narrative focus as it introduces us to Jiro and his family, but loses much of its coherence as it moves into its last half hour. Thereafter, Jiro meanders from one Sukiyabashi-related subject to another without apparent motivation. Even still, the overall strength of the Jiro as the film’s central character makes even the weakest portions of Jiro Dreams of Sushi an absolute delight to watch.

Special features on Magnolia Home Entertainment’s Blu-ray release of Jiro include deleted scenes, extended sequences centered on the masters of the various ingredients that go into Jiro’s sushi, a sushi slide show set to classical music, the theatrical trailer, and feature-length commentary by Gelb and editor Brandon Driscoll-Luthringer.

About the Author:

Jef is a writer and educator in Chicago, Illinois. He holds a degree in Media & Cinema Studies from DePaul University, but sometimes he drops it and picks it back up again. He's also the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com and is fueled entirely by coffee (as if you couldn't tell).
Filed in: Film, Video and DVD

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