Film Focus: Jiro Dreams of Sushi
Starring: Jiro Ono, Yoshikazu Ono
Director: David Gelb
Running Time 81 minutes
“What defines ‘deliciousness’? Taste is tough to explain, isn’t it? I would see ideas in dreams; my mind was bursting with ideas…in dreams I would have visions of sushi.”
Reviewed by Matt Keleher
Jiro Ono is 87 years old. He is also a world acclaimed sushi-master and proprietor of Sukiyabashi Jiro – an unassuming restaurant in a Tokyo subway, which many critics claim has no equal. David Gelb’s documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi takes us into the world of a man who has dedicated his life to honing his culinary skill; forever striving to improve upon his best efforts.
Early on we learn that there is a month-long waiting list for his Michelin three-starred restaurant, which attracts sushi aficionados the world over; the remainder of the film expounds why. Jiro insists that all apprentices meet his exacting standards. Food critic Yamato, an avid fan of Jiro’s work explains some of the rigorous challenges that all apprentices must face: “An apprentice must first be able to properly hand-squeeze a towel. At first the towels are so hot, they burn the apprentice’s hands. Until you can adequately squeeze a towel, they won’t let you touch the fish.”
Pictured: Jiro Ono and his team at Sukiyabashi Jiro
Having mastered the towel, an apprentice begins to cut and in turn prepare fish sushi; at around 10 years’ experience they may be permitted to cook the more intricate egg dishes. Senior apprentice Nakazawa recounts his struggle to accomplish this difficult milestone; over a period of four months, Nakazawa prepared more than 200 egg sushi – all of which Jiro rejected. When he finally prepared a dish that made the grade, he was so happy, he cried!
The film doesn’t rely on visual finesse – nor should it; the colour texture and of the ingredients underscored by the simmering pots and a stirring soundtrack (featuring the music of Bach, Philip Glass and Mozart) are enough to make it a compelling watch. Yamato aptly likens dining at the Jiro’s to listening to a symphony; meals are served in three ‘movements’ with the sequence carefully selected so that the dishes build to a crescendo: add Jiro in the role of conductor and you have a truly unforgettable experience.
Hard work, discipline and the corollary sense of achievement are leitmotifs throughout the film; these themes are universal and this is a film you don’t need to be a connoisseur to enjoy. It’s clear that Jiro clearly has a remarkable talent and work ethic, which he says keep him feeling young. I left the film feeling inspired (and just a little hungry).
Watch the trailer here:
Have you seen this film? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section?