Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011) ☆☆☆(3/4) : An old master dedicated his skill

The documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” is literally about a man who dreams of making sushi eve during his sleep. Jiro Ono, who was 85 when this documentary was made, runs a small but famous sushi restaurant in Tokyo, and he is a prime example of a master dedicated to his skill. Always reaching for the perfection and never being content with his respectable position, he searches for new ways to explore his skill with strict moderation every day, and he has never stopped that process while wholly devoting himself to his expertise.

This is a man as simple and pure as the sushi served to the customers at his restaurant. The restaurant serves nothing but various kinds of sushi, but they are prepared with fastidious preparation while remaining simple as much as possible on the surface. We see how he and his employees keep the kitchen clean before working. We observe how they prepare rice and the other ingredients, which are well-selected and purchased from the vendors he trusts. We also watch Jiro managing the whole process including how to place his customers. There are only handful seats to sit at the restaurant, but he is meticulous about how to place them for the right condition he wants.

As we watch him at work with others, we are not so surprised to learn that his small restaurant actually gets three star rating from the Michelin guide(I heard that there are only 106 restaurants over the world which receive that prestigious honor). It may just look like a small restaurant located at a subway station, but this is a first-rate restaurant where you have to make a reservation in advance at least before one month(the price is at least $360, by the way). When one Japanese food critic enthusiastically praises Jiro’s sushi, he is not kidding at all; though we can only look at Jiro’s sushi pieces on the screen, but I must say they look really gorgeously tasty even though they are simply made of molded rice and various seafoods placed on the top of it.

Having practiced his skill for more than 60 years, Jiro has rarely stops working. He seldom takes a day off, and the food critic says that Jiro even went straight back to his work right after he received an award from the Japanese government. His two sons tell us about one amusing tale from their childhood; because Jiro usually went out early in the morning before they woke up and came back late at night after they got asleep, they told their mother that some stranger was sleeping in their house when they found their dad taking a rest on one Sunday.

Though Jiro admits that he was not a model dad to his sons while occupied with his work, the sons respect their father for his mastery and dedication, and they have followed his footsteps. The first son Yoshikazu has been working under his father and, as an elder son, he will take over Jiro’s restaurant someday. His younger brother Takashi has been the head chef of the other sushi restaurant after going through many years of apprenticeship at his father’s restaurant(you’ll be surprised to see how many years it takes for an apprentice to be allowed to make sushi for himself).

Both are frank about how they will continue to live under the big shadow of their legendary father even after he passes away, though they are surely skillful professionals on their own. While Takashi has less burden because he has his own restaurant, Yoshikazu knows well that he will always be compared to his dad once he becomes the head chef of the restaurant, though he was crucial in getting three-stars rating from Michelin. His life story is interesting to hear; he did not like to work in the restaurant a lot while hoping to become a pilot or a car racer instead, but now he becomes an important part of the family business as his father’s second-in-command.

It is his job to go to the seafood market for purchasing the ingredients instead of his father, who always went to the market for himself before he recently handed that job to his son. There is mutual trust between Jiro and the various vendors respectively selling tuna, shrimp, mackerel, eel, octopus, sea urchin, and many other seafoods; through their experience in the market, each of them knows well about which is the best thing to sell to their old customer. The rice is also important in making sushi, and we later see a pleasant conversation between Jiro and his favorite rice merchant.

Meanwhile, many of Jiro’s sushi pieces are prominently shown through clean, bright cinematography with the wonderful soundtrack mainly consisting of Philip Glass’ works and the other familiar classic works. There is a graceful moment when these delicious sushi pieces are presented to the customers one by one while the classic music is played on the soundtrack, and this scene will make you hungry from the beginning to the end. Each piece are carefully chosen, arranged, prepared, and served, and the result is effortlessly and harmoniously handed to the customers, who all look very satisfied with being served well by the master and his assistants.

“Jiro Dreams of Sushi” is a deliciously engaging documentary about one interesting man who really loves his job. It is always fun to watch the people lively occupied with their jobs, and Jiro is indeed one of them. Watching his admirably tireless professionalism, I recalled another good documentary “Bill Cunningham New York”(2010), which was also about another octogenarian who has never thought about quitting his professional job while having been living for the personal pleasure through his wonderful work. I seriously doubt whether they will ever quit even when they pass 90, unless something happens to stop them once for all.

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2 Responses to Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011) ☆☆☆(3/4) : An old master dedicated his skill

  1. S M Rana says:

    I’ll have to see this aromatic gastronomic film–I’m sure it will equal the noodle movie Tampopo!

    SC: I must watch “Tampopo”…

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