LITTLE ROCK Thoughtful, gentle and wonderfully restrained, David Gelb’s brief documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a portrait of an artist in full flower, a master who has achieved a species of perfection. Jiro Ono might make the best sushi in the world, and he makes it every day, without fail. He disappoints no one ever.
This seems fantastic, that this 85-year-old with elfin features and a beatific smile, could be so at one with his work. He really does dream of sushi, and he has for a long time - since he was a young boy and ran away to work in a restaurant. He is fulfilled by doing the same thing every day, getting better, drilling deeper and deeper into his chosen craft.
Most of the movie takes place in Jiro’s little restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro, a 10-seater in an office building not far from Tokyo’s bustling Ginza subway station. It has been awarded three stars - the highest rating possible - by the Michelin Guide every year since 2008. (There are only 93 restaurants in the world that currently hold a three-star ranking, which, according to Michelin, makes them worth “a special journey” to eat at.)
A meal at Jiro’s will cost you about $300. And Jiro selects the menu. There are no appetizers, no desserts and the entire experience takes only about 15 minutes. And English-speakers without a command of Japanese are usually diverted to the similar (two-star) sushi restaurant that Jiro’s youngest son runs in the Roppongi section of Tokyo. But foodies trek there from all over the world, and reservations must be made months in advance.
Jiro’s oldest son, Yoshikazu, is faced with the unenviable task of trying to succeed his father after he retires from sushi-making. Yoshikazu is in his 50s, but he’s still in his father’s shadow and he understands that he will likely be so all his life. Such are the standards Jiro has set - if you want to be his apprentice you will spend weeks learning how to squeeze a towel. It might be years before you move up to boiling eggs or massaging octopus.
Yoshikazu admits he once dreamed of something other than sushi - of flying a fighter jet, or driving a race car. But his eyes weren’t good enough for pilot training, and it was Jiro’s wish that his son follow in his footsteps. Now Yoshikazu is quietly waiting at his father’s shoulder, to step in when and if the old man decides to do something other than make sushi. At least he has graduated to the point that he is trusted to buy the seafood. (And to serve the Michelin inspectors who come to rate the restaurant.)
Some people might feel that Gelb doesn’t tell us enough about Jiro. We know nothing of how he lives outside the restaurant - although we accompany him on a trip back to the home province he left more than 70 years before. All we know is that he left an abusive, alcoholic father, and that he was in the war.
Maybe we are curious about Jiro’s past, but he seems not to be. He visits his parents’ graves, and seems to bear them no resentment. His sons bear his imprint, his preternatural work ethic.
“Nowadays,” Jiro says with an enigmatic smile, “parents tell their children, ‘You can return if it doesn’t work out.’ When parents say stupid things like that, the kids turn out to be failures.”
I think Jiro is a hard man,but I am glad to have met him. I don’t know whether he is a genius, but I know that he is diligent and that he does his best when most of us can’t.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi
: Documentary, with Jiro Ono, Yoshikazu Ono
: David Gelb
: PG, for mild thematic elements
: 82 minutes
MovieStyle, Pages 31 on 04/20/2012
Print Headline: Jiro Dreams of Sushi