Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Around what age do you see yourself retiring and what are your plans? When I am around sixty or seventy and hopefully healthy enough to endure the extremes of travel, I want to experience the heat of the Egyptian deserts down to the chill of the Alaskan tundras. But Jiro Ono, a renowned eighty-five-year-old sushi master, is not one to think of retirement. In David Gelb’s scrumptious documentary, it explores what it takes for Jiro, despite his age, to continue to be on the top of his game and the elements that make his restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro, an international success.

While the camera gives its attention on various sushi being prepared with intimidating precision coupled with Jiro’s childhood story and how he is able to eventually achieve great success, I actually caught my eyes gravitating toward the chefs’ hands. I tracked the hands’ rate of movement, the acrobatics they go through to make the ingredients look presentable and delicious, the texture of the palm, and possible indication of exhaustion. There is a sort of dance, a magical performance, when preparations in the kitchen are being made. Due to the level of detail that the camera captures, the food placed on the plate feels almost irrelevant to the art.

Various heads are interviewed so we can understand Jiro’s influence: a food writer, current and former apprentices, down to the customers who go through the trouble of reserving a spot in the restaurant, which offers only a maximum of ten seats per serving, months in advance. Perhaps the most interesting are Yoshikazu Ono and Takashi Ono, Jiro’s eldest and youngest son, respectively. It is fascinating that although they hold their father on such high regard, and rightfully so, there is a melancholy aura which suggests that no matter what they achieve, surpassing their father’s legacy is next to an impossibility.

I wish that the film could have delved more into the possible rivalry between the brothers given that they lead their own sushi restaurants. I wanted to feel a certain competitive edge in them. I did not quite believe that these men would be experts at their craft without some sort of drive to show everyone–and to each other–that they are the best. However, it can be argued that the pair is successful in their own right precisely because they do not feel the need to outcompete one another.

The film is not just about Jiro and his family. Surprisingly, it shifts its focus on the vendors that Jiro and his team consistently rely on to present a pool of ingredients that taste good. Like Jiro and his apprentices, the vendors, too, are specialists. It gave me a new perspective. Before, when I would go to the market and order fish, I didn’t think of the men and women behind the glass as specialists, just people who scaled, gutted, and sliced fish. By relating the common man to Jiro, a restaurateur who commands three Michelin stars, it highlights the idea that given talent as well as skill, ordinary can truly become extraordinary; we all have to start somewhere.

While “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” is absolutely for food lovers, it is ultimately an inspirational letter for young people who might not have big dreams but have the unending passion to master their chosen craft. It might just make the difference between happiness and contentment.

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