Here’s a dangerous game: the Jiro Dreams of Sushi drinking game. Simply take a shot every time somebody says ‘Jiro’. Actually, don’t – you’d be dead within a few minutes. Indeed, it seems that in just about every spoken sentence someone directly references the man by name. Make no mistake, there’s a great and thorough deference to world-renowned sushi chef Jiro Ono in this elegant documentary from director David Gelb.
Jiro, who ran away from home when he was very young, has two sons which suggests a family and life outside of sushi but the film doesn’t concern itself with stuff like that. For us, it’s sufficient to know that both sons have followed Jiro (although not necessarily of their own volition) into the sushi business, with elder son Yoshikazu as heir apparent. On the other hand, younger son Takashi has been left to open a branch restaurant to Jiro’s own Sukiyabashi Jiro – a small, nondescript place in a subway, seating a modest 10 people or so and requiring at least a month’s notice in order to make a reservation. That’s not to mention the inordinate costs of dining, suffice to say that it’s not the ideal venue for the thrifty individual.
Serving only sushi, Sukiyabashi Jiro is considered among the best sushi restaurants in the world, and has thusly been awarded a prestigious 3-Star Michelin review. Such a rating means it’s worth travelling to Tokyo, Japan just to try Jiro’s famous sushi. Throughout the film we learn much about the sushi-making process without really learning much about the sushi-making process. Perhaps I’ve confused you, but what I mean is that we get numerous shots of people slicing and dicing fish, massaging octopi, fanning rice and ritualistically plating finished serves. What we don’t get however, is a cookbook ‘how to’ guide of the basic steps in preparing sushi.
We also learn about Jiro’s apprentices and trusted associates, such as the Tuna Master who finds the best fresh tuna at the local markets on a daily basis (Jiro’s menu changes depending on what’s available). There’s also the Rice Master, a man who knows rice as well as Jiro knows sushi. Apparently the Hyatt approached him and asked for the rice that Jiro uses, but the Rice Master candidly refused because only Jiro knows how to prepare it properly. It’s clear then that 85-year-old Jiro is a true shokunin, a master artisan of sushi-making having devoted the better part of 70 years to refining his craft. When not making sushi he dreams of making it, as there’s always something new to create, some process, step or taste that could be made better.
In many ways he’s a machine not a man, built to make sushi and nothing else. Jiro stands behind the counter eyeing his patrons, noting whether they are lefties or righties so he can place his creations in the correct spot. He pays attention to gender, so he can make sushi of a size so that everyone finishes eating at the same time. It’s like watching a well-rehearsed symphony, with an ebb and flow that’s carefully controlled by an expert conductor. It’s both repetitious and mesmerising, certainly mouth-watering, and you can’t help but respect Jiro’s tenacity. Thankfully, Jiro Dreams of Sushi labels each new dish as it arrives so you know what to look for when you leave to fill your aching belly.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi is an earnest documentary that sucks you in with scrumptious food and enthralls with its compelling depiction of master sushi-maker Jiro Ono – I would’ve loved a 4D experience!