Thursday, November 14, 2013

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Directed by David Gelb.
2011. Rated PG, 81 minutes.
Jiro Ono
Yoshikazu Ono
Masuhiro Yamamoto
Takashi Ono

What if I told you one of the best restaurants in the world doesn't serve appetizers desserts, doesn't even let you decide what to eat, what you get only takes fifteen minutes to finish, and only seats ten? Sound preposterous? That’s exactly what we have in Jiro’s, s sushi restaurant in Japan. It’s named after it’s owner, Jiro Ono, a tireless eighty-five year old master chef. He is a master largely because sushi has completely consumed his life. It is the only thing he prepares and serves. It has been that way since World War II. As the title infers, he even dreams of the stuff. He tells us he sometimes wakes in the middle of the night with ideas for new sushi dishes, or how to refine his technique. It has worked tremendously. A highly respected journal published by Michelin, yes the tire company, gave Jiro’s a three star rating, their highest possible score. We’re told this means a restaurant is so good it is worth traveling to whatever country it’s in just to eat there. Apparently, people agree. They come from everywhere to partake in the product of his passion. To get one of those ten seats, you must make reservations at least a month in advance.

Jiro has no plans on retiring, but obviously he can’t go on making sushi forever. One day, his now fifty year old son Yoshikazu will take over. In reality, Yoshikazu already makes sushi as his dad’s second-in-command with no noticeable difference in quality. He also does much of the leg work. He goes to the market to pick out the fish, handles most of the training of their small group of eager apprentices, and oversees much of the preparation that must be done every day. Though we get the sense he would never say it while his father is still breathing, he’s a master in his own right. He is patiently awaiting the day he must take over completely. And I do mean patiently. We never feel like he’s chomping at the bit to put dad out to pasture. In fact, there is a hint of him dreading the inevitable day. This is understandable. Who wants to step directly into the shoes of a legend? Still, this is no point of contention. The bond between the two men is strong. This comes across beautifully as we spend a good chunk of time with Yoshikazu. He shows us all the hard work that goes into their world class sushi. The various types of fish are picked meticulously and prepared for service with near surgical precision. The staff he trains with his father are in class for the long haul. It is a ten year apprenticeship. At the end of this time, former trainees are sent out into the world to open their own restaurant. Yoshikazu himself has been by his dad’s side for over thirty years.

A documentary about a guy who loves sushi doesn't sound like it should be a long one and it isn't. However, I think it short-changes us just a bit. A little more time could be invested in the relationship between Yoshikazu and his brother Takashi. Maybe we could get some testimonies from people who have eaten there, besides the food critic Masuhiro Yamamoto. Certainly, I would like to have met his wife and gotten her two cents. We’re told she’s still alive, but nothing more than that, and she never appears. All of these could have been included with less than ten more minutes of run-time. That said, it’s a fun, lighthearted film about a guy better at one thing than most of us will ever be at anything. This leads to my biggest gripe with the movie. Oddly, this complaint is because of what is perhaps the movie's greatest quality. Throughout, we get gorgeously framed shots of the various types of sushi. We get so many of them, many have described this film as food porn. Here's the problem: I can’t taste it!

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