Jiro Dreams of Sushi
directed by David Gelb
starring Jiro Ono, Yoshikazu Ono
City Room Films
There’s some truth to most stereotypes, and the one about obsessive Japanese aiming for professional perfection is exemplified by Jiro Ono. Kicked out of the house at seven, he spent 75 years perfecting the art of sushi. It took some time for his reputation to get traction, but now he’s the top of the heap with meals starting at $300 dollars, and up to a year’s waiting list. Why? Absolute, obsessive attention to every detail and the most innovative food sculptures in Japan. He massages his octopus for nearly an hour so it’s not rubbery. He buys the sort of tuna Donald Trump can’t afford. His rice is so exquisite it can’t be sold to the Hyatt — “Why should I waste it on them? They don’t know how to cook it properly,” intones his connection. On the down side, his eldest son must wait patiently for dad to pass or retire before he can take over the shop, and even then he will never match dad. Number two son started another identical restaurant across town, but he can’t charge what dad does because dad is dad. While Jiro is stern and demanding, you sense his pride, and all his assistants and former associates give him the respect only a true master can claim.
While the world of high-end and cooking is always fascinating, we see other aspects of life in the sushi jungle. The search for high-end seafood is brutal and never-ending, and the popularity of sushi depletes the oceans of top predators. When Jiro occasionally visits his parent’s grave, he openly wonders “Why am I here? They never took care of me.” His sons are patient and forbearing, but you sense a slight impatience; elder son Yoshikazu seems like Prince Charles — always the Prince, but kingship is denied. Clearly the strictures of Japanese culture offer both the chance to excel to the highest peaks, but the brutal set of rules means if you fail, second best might as well be total failure. Behind all this cultural angst is a parade of lovingly shot food — every morsel a work of art, every diner a diehard fan. This is a great food documentary, and if I had an extra 100,000 yen in my bank account, I might pop over there for a nosh.