Eighty five year-old Jiro Ono lives to make sushi. When he dreams, he does the same. Therefore, the title is not a cute exaggeration. This is a heartfelt documentary about sushi as an art, profession, virtue and passion. These themes are told through Jiro, the man behind the world’s finest sushi.
His restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro, is located in the basement of a Tokyo office building. Jiro works almost every day, with the intention that today’s sushi will be better than yesterday’s. The sushi master lives a small life, but you can tell he wouldn’t have it any other way.
I suppose I have an affection for these kind of movies. About the kind of characters who follow their dreams and come out triumphantly on the other side. Their state of mind is serene. But, as the audience, we wonder if these characters have any regrets or sad memories. I am reminded of last year’s engrossing documentary “Bill Cunningham New York” – a better film – about the reclusive photographer who rides around New York on his twenty-ninth Schwinn bicycle. He mentions little of his parents and never marred. Photography is his lawful wife.
On the other hand, Jiro has or had a wife. She is never seen, but we meet his 50 year-old son Yoshikazu, also a sushi master who plans to inherit his father’s restaurant. Jiro has another son who owns another restaurant in Tokyo, but we hear little of him. Yoshikazu admits to the great pressure of following in his father’s footsteps. He claims his sushi will have to be twice as good as Jiro’s if the customers will even consider him an honorable successor. His father is that well reputed.
Yet we rarely see customers at Sukiyabashi Jiro. David Gelb’s fairly straightforward “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” instead captures Jiro, while he prepares a sushi dish in utter bliss. He is fastidious about his work, not out of crankiness but because he cares for the art of sushi dearly. “Ultimate simplicity,” says Jiro, “leads to purity.” True, in fact his sushi is not elaborately decorated. It is served on flat ceramic plates, and very quickly. Customers come to eat, not talk. The bill probably will amount to 30,000 yen (about $380 U.S.).
The intrigue of this life is so fascinating to watch that it doesn’t matter if you like sushi or not. Gelb’s documentary imparts universal appeal, since it is more about a passion than a specific food. As a result, we can relate to what is on-screen. The way Jiro worries about the quality of his sushi. Always questioning his talent and ability through self-critical qualms. These are classic quirks of an artist. He is always in the zone, to the point we never sense he is invested as a screen presence. There is a subtle reserve to this man that is truly impenetrable, and Gelb is unable to pry deeper.
We witness the behind-the-scenes business of Tokyo fishmongers, but that is pretty obligatory. The true value in “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” is Jiro himself. The enigma who has made sushi for 70 years (he ran away from home at age seven) and would do it if he could for an eternity. His dark secrets are moot, because even if he has his troubles, his love for sushi will always be by his side.
DIRECTOR: David Gelb PRODUCERS: Kevin Iwashina, Tom Pellegrini RUN TIME: 82 minutes MPAA: PG
Parker Mott is a Canadian filmmaker and freelance film critic from Toronto, ON. He finds inspiration in the films of Alfred Hitchcock, Paul Thomas Anderson, Martin Scorsese, and Werner Herzog. His favourite films are “Goodfellas”, “Fargo”, and “The Passion of Joan of Arc”. Currently, he is in pre-production for a fictional film that will be considerably Kafkaesque.
More of his reviews, essays, and interviews can be found at: http://www.thefinaltake.com/