Review: “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”
Produced by: Kevin Iwashina, Tom Pellegrini
Cinematography by: David Gelb
Music by: Jeff Foxworth, The Ontic, Rye Randa
Featuring: Jiro Ono, Yoshikazu Ono, Takashi Ono, Masuhiro Yamamoto, Hachiro Mizutani
It’s not uncommon these days for the only recognition a restaurateur or chef gains is for their notoriety. We get reality shows like Cake Boss and Kitchen Nightmares which, regardless of the actual talents involved in the productions, mostly focus on spectacle and shouting. Ask almost anyone who Gordon Ramsay is, and, if they’re actually able to connect the name to the person, they’re more likely to talk about how much of a foul-mouthed hard ass he is more than they are the actual skills that he possesses — which is a shame because Gordon Ramsay is undoubtedly a very skilled, very talented man who just so happens to have a rather… uptight reputation. That’s why when I came across this instructional video of Ramsay demonstrating his technique for making scrambled eggs, laughing and even showing a sensitive side by talking about serving breakfast in bed to the misses, I was honestly taken aback! How come we, as a society, care more about the screaming and loud personalities than we do about the actual person on screen and the skills they possess?
I bring all this up because, to me, the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi is pretty much the antithesis of all this. If you’re going into this film hoping to be introduced to a perfectionist who screams at his staff and makes ridiculous requests for the impossible, prepare to be disappointed. The man featured in this documentary, Jiro Ono, an 85-year-old sushi chef, is anything but loud, and his staff, made up of several apprentices, ranging from a young 20-something on up to Jiro’s 50-year-old son, Yoshikazu, speak of their master with awe. One of the apprentices recalls his incredible struggle to cook eggs that were up to Jiro’s standards. Jiro, he lets us know, was always pushing him to do better. While there are many people who would begin to resent a man who, after years of training, would criticize their technique for cooking something as seemingly simple as eggs, this apprentice understood that Jiro not only had the paying customers in mind, but also his own betterment as a chef, as well. The apprentice recalls that, when he finally made the eggs on Jiro’s level, Jir’os compliment, calling him a shokunin (craftsman), made him want to pump his fists in the air, though he remained as stoic as his master and received it with quiet gratitude.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi is about as focused on its subject as its subject is on his craft. Though we are taken on a few side trips to see the various men who supply the ingredients used in Jiro’s tiny restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro, these scenes serve as extensions of Jiro’s philosophies regarding the food he serves his customers. We do get a few anecdotes regarding Jiro’s past, with Jiro taking a rare day off to go visit some childhood friends in his hometown and visiting his parents graves, but these scenes largely serve to give context to Jiro’s drive to continue his work well into what most people would consider retiring age. He started life poor and was poor up into adulthood, and he still harbors some contempt for his parents, who weren’t really there for him. But sushi is not just an outlet for his frustration — it also became his passion, his vocation in life. Jiro knows his purpose is to make sushi, and he doesn’t wish to imagine a time when he won’t be able to make it any longer. We also gain insight into the role sushi plays in his relationship with his sons. Jiro was neglectful during their childhood, he admits, but unlike his own father, he redeemed himself by teaching them a craft that would provide for them for the rest of their lives, and both sons seem honored to carry on their father’s legacy.
Featuring cinematography that captures the beauty of each piece of sushi Jiro and his staff prepare for their guests and a lovely score that nicely accents the craftsmanship on display, Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a wonderful examination of a deceptively simple food and the highly skilled man who has made it his life’s purpose to always find ways to make it even better. For those whose familiarity with sushi is that it’s just raw fish and rice or whose only context for the people who make food in restaurants are people in screaming matches and the shocking revelations about what food is rotting in their fridge, Jiro Dreams of Sushi will be a wonderful, even relaxing revelation. And even if you consider yourself to be an enlightened “foodie” who knows the difference between your Rachael Rays and Thomas Kellers, Jiro Dreams of Sushi has the potential to be an awe-inspiring and humbling experience. You may think you know everything there is about the food you’re eating, but, unlike with your stomach, as far as experience goes, there’s always room for more.
The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 5 / 5