posted 2012-04-07 16:08:41

A Master Craftsman of Sushi

A review of Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Wen Hao Wang

Staff Writer

Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures
Underneath the streets of Tokyo, in the basement of an office building next to a subway station, renowned sushi chef Jiro Ono prepares sushi like no other. He slices a thin cut of pink fatty tuna. Holding the o-toro delicately, he scoops up pillowy white rice with his other hand. In rapid movements, he turns, squeezes, and presses them together. He brushes on a glaze and places it on a black plate. It glistens in the light and writhes ever so slightly. Packed with stunningly sensual shots of sushi, the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi pays homage to Jiro, the first sushi chef to receive three Michelin Stars—one of the highest-regarded awards in the culinary world.

Director David Gelb presents a portrayal of Jiro that is as charmingly beautiful and complex as sushi itself. Self- professed foodies and non-foodies will be intrigued by the intimate look into the chef’s life and craft.

Jiro, now at 85 years old, has been honing his culinary craft since the age of 10. A passionate man with an aim towards perfection, Jiro only takes days off for emergencies and national Japanese holidays. The ingredients he receives, from rice to wasabi and fish, are from select specialists in their respective fields that he has developed a relationship with. As a testament to his restaurant’s popularity, reservations are made a month in advance in his tiny sushi bar that fits just a handful. There are no appetizers or menus, just melt-in-your-mouth sushi—starting

at over $300—that food aficionados make the trip to Japan solely for. When he isn’t working, Jiro is sleeping, and even then he is shown dreaming of sushi.

Jiro’s passion, discipline, and artistry are accentuated by the film’s elegant, dramatic score of Classical and Modern Orchestral pieces. In a slow-motioned scene, an apprentice fans sweet sushi rice as a swooping sound is heightened.

In another scene, a gentle orchestra reflects the grace of omakase—the Japanese translation of entrust—wherein the customer leaves the selection of

sushi up to the chef. Masuhiro Yamato, a Japanese food critic, writer and judge of Japan’s Iron Chef, is shown delightfully comparing the meal to a concerto. Jiro becomes a conductor directing three movements: the tuna is the classic introduction, seasonal catches like striped mackerel are the cadenzas, and the tamago is the traditional finale.

Ultimately the strength of the documentary is that it is not simply an exaltation of a stern sushi God. Interviews with apprentices, fish market wholesalers, and Jiro’s relationship with them provides a more humorous tone in the film.

One of the greater stories concerning Jiro in the film is the relationship with his sons and the idea of succession. Following Japanese tradition, Jiro’s oldest son Yoshikazu will be inheritor to the business. The younger son, Takashi has already left his father’s reign, opening a separate branch that is less expensive and more relaxed.

The film is as much about Yoshikazu as it is about his father. Convinced into working for his father after high school and working for him for 50 years now, he will have to overcome being a shadow in his father’s legacy.

As grand and beautiful as the film is, it is still grounded in a way that is relatable. One will see sushi in a different way, but most of all you may be inspired by its themes of passion and dedication towards work that makes one happy. If not, you will certainly be hungry for some sushi by the end of the film.