This spring has already given audiences two documentaries celebrating artists’ dedication to their craft: “Pina,” which showcased the style of German contemporary dance created by Pina Bausch, and “This Is Not A Film,” which followed Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panafi as he struggled with a government ban from making movies. Although striking, neither was quite as intriguing as director David Gelb’s “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” which transports audiences behind the counter into a world that is fascinating yet bittersweet.
Jiro Ono, 85, is the world-famous chef behind the Sukiyabashi Jiro sushi restaurant in Tokyo. Hidden inside a subway station, this 10-seat spot features plates starting at nearly $300 and requires reservations at least a month in advance. Over the course of 87 minutes, the film briskly moves along as it follows Jiro and his two sons’ daily routine handpicking the highest quality fish from the markets and painstakingly preparing each and every plate.
Jiro’s philosophy is basic: “Ultimate simplicity leads to purity.” He refuses to serve any sushi unless it is better than the last, and believes there is always room for improvement on his constant pursuit of perfection. He has spent 75 years making sushi and holds the distinction of being the first sushi chef to receive three Michelin stars—one of the highest recognitions in the restaurant world.
The soft hues of the restaurant’s décor contrast with the rich, vibrant colors of the sushi served on each individual plate — whether it is the bright gold of the “tamagoyaki” or the deep pinks of the “umami.” For Jiro, he is not merely serving food — he is making music at a concert, and every dish must crescendo into an even greater one.
It is nothing short of awe-inspiring to watch someone that is so completely consumed by their craft, but simultaneously gives a tinge of melancholy to the story overall.
Through his absolute dedication to sushi, Jiro estranged himself from his sons and laughs upon remembering how they thought he was a stranger in his own home growing up. Both his sons were required to work in their father’s restaurant, which makes the audience question whether or not those were the futures they truly saw for themselves. The eldest son in particular has worked in the restaurant for more than 30 years and is expected to take over once Jiro passes. Critics say he must be twice as good as his father to even reach the level of mastery that Jiro has achieved.
These are the poignant ideas that lurk underneath the surface of “Jiro,” and give the film a depth that surpasses a mere snapshot of one’s daily life. It makes the audience question how far we are willing to go in pursuing our own goals and what is worth sacrificing when true perfection is unfeasible.
The stern wrinkles of Jiro’s face may not give us these answers, but that is what gives him such a whimsical, otherworldly presence. It is an indescribable feeling to watch him slice, stir, brush and serve every piece of sushi with the utmost delicacy, which is only made more dazzling by Gelb’s exquisite cinematography.
Midway through the film, distinguished food critic Masuhiro Yamamoto remarks that passion is what makes a great chef. Say what you will about Jiro as a person, but his passion for his work is undeniable. “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” is a captivating viewing experience, and is sure to make your next California roll a little less enticing.
“Jiro Dreams of Sushi” opens April 20 at Harkins Camelview 5, 7001 E. Highland Ave. in Scottsdale.