Operating from his ten-seat restaurant in the basement of a Tokyo office building, 85 year-old Jiro Ono’s on-going quest to perfect the art of sushi has made him a legend in the culinary world. Jiro Dreams of Sushi profiles a man who has dedicated his life to honing his craft and the two sons destined to forever be in their father’s shadow.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi delves into a world most are unfamiliar with and imbues it with curiosity and admiration for the skill required. It’s difficult the comprehend the artistry involved in what’s often perceived as a simple dish. Jiro examines the entire process from the instinctual selection of the perfect tuna to the ideal pressure required to fuse fish and rice.
At £200 per head, and a one month wait for reservations, you would be forgiven for questioning its value. Michelin thinks so, garnering the restaurant with three Michelin stars, and recommending a trip to Tokyo just to patronise his restaurant.
But Jiro is not merely a celebration of sushi, it’s about the natural passion and obsession. Jiro wouldn’t say he’s an extraordinary man. He puts his success down to a philosophy of hard-work and dedication that transcends the art of sushi. It carries an inspirational message of taking pride in your chosen profession and to “always strive to elevate your craft”.
Jiro himself is a wise and complicated subject, still maintaining a sharp wit and charm in his old age. Like many who can say they’re the best in the world at something, Jiro possess a slight arrogance and superiority, although such an attitude may be warranted. But for every candid confession, there are many questions left unanswered.
Jiro has spent his life on the quest to perfect the art of sushi, but is it all worth it? I doubt Jiro would admit any regrets in his life, but behind the facade I fear there is a man left wanting and unfulfilled, perhaps coming to the realisation that perfection is unobtainable.
Jiro examines the relationship between Ono and his sons, who follow in their fathers footsteps. His younger son, Takashi, has opened his own branch, a mirror image of his fathers. While his sushi does not garner the same respect as his father, his less domineering presence and cheaper prices have made his restaurant successful.
His eldest son, and obligated heir, Yoshikazu, at the age of 50, is still waiting to succeed his father who stubbornly refuses to retire. Even if his talent equals that of Jiro, he will forever live in his shadow because he got there first, it’s a painful revelation for Yoshikazu, but one he accepts with humility.
Taking on dual roles as director and cinematographer, David Gelb does not glamorize the locations they inhabit. Only the stark reds and oranges of the fish itself provides a welcome change from the muted palette of grays and browns, an arguable reflection of Ono’s view on the world.
Gelb demonstrates a great eye for cinematography, experimenting with shallow focus, slow motion and lingering tracking shots that provide with Jiro a unique look and feel.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a fascinating portrayal of a man obsessed, reminiscent of a subject Werner Herzog would explore. But where Herzog would focus on the madness and tragedy of such characters, Jiro remains upbeat and optimistic. It’s a beautiful documentary, and a lack of knowledge of sushi is not an excuse to miss this one.