Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
7Apr/120

Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2012)

To be insane is to hope the same action, repeated endlessly, will yield different results.  By this token, Jiro Ono is the most insane sushi chef in the world.  For almost seventy five years he has been taking the rice, smacking it against the meat, and then brushing a hint of soy sauce onto the construction to serve for smiling patrons.  He gets up at 5, comes home at 10, and never ceases the repetition of this pattern.

The beauty of Jiro Dreams of Sushi is acknowledging both how insane his workload must seem, but how wrong it is to think he is any less of a wonder for pursuing it.  In beautiful close-ups we see how the individual ingredients coalesce suddenly into what is considered the most delicious sushi in the world.  So delicious Jiro has earned the status of one of Japan's Living Treasures, a distinction held by other artists such as Akira Kurosawa.

That's a vaunted category to belong to in and of itself, and Jiro Dreams justifies this status.  I had not considered food an art before, but the way Jiro makes sushi is a testament to patience.  It takes 10 years, he explains, for the tuna he uses to reach peak flavor.  In this time the rice is growing, the soy is being manufactured, and a team of weary apprentices age into their roles.  Sushi, at its best, shows how the passing of time is as simple as it is beautiful, and Jiro patiently waited decades to teach the lesson.

It remains unclear whether that is his express goal or not.  Jiro is a man who has been so focused on his work for so long it does not seem he has an identity outside of his restaurant.  When not at work, he wants to be at work, and when in the kitchen he is focused on nothing less than perfection.

He expects it from himself, and most importantly from his eldest son Yoshikazu.  The younger left and started his own sushi business, but it is Yoshikazu who must carry the name on into the next generation, and is prepared to face the fact he is not his father.  But one of the subtle beauties of the film is the way a father's stern lessons are usually because of a latent talent which the son may not recognize.  Jiro is an amazing chef, yet his legacy is secured through these skills he patiently helped cultivate.

For those hoping to get the details of Jiro's life outside of the kitchen, I will advise against thinking so foolishly.  This is a man who dreamt of sushi as a youngster and will make it until he is dead, someone who barely remembers his parents and, when visiting their grave, says "I don't know why I came here, they didn't treat me that well."  Jiro must have had a lover, if not a wife, to have sons but she is not seen.  All that matters to Jiro is the time he has left, and how perfect his sons can be where he was not.

Director David Gelb, if nothing else, has produced food porn of the highest caliber.  There are many shots of sushi settling into its final form as well as the preparation process, and I cannot deny the subtle difference in the way each ingredient fell into different combinations, nor the ravenous hunger I felt seeing them coalesce in such delicious lighting.

Gelb's film is not a splashy documentary, but a very mature one.  It takes the same kind of methodical approach of the sushi master, following but never intruding on genius at work.  There are a few moments which seem a bit too staged, such a late film rendezvous with some old friends, and Jiro does not seem to be at home.  Still Gelb finds the best way of showing Jiro at work, a constantly hovering presence, who questions and responds with his eyes and rare smile.

Despite the cold of the markets where they obtain their ingredients, this is the kind of film that deserves warmer weather.  Even in his twilight Jiro longs to create a dish of delight and warmth, and never let his reputation get in the way of his work.  It's the kind of story you feel good leaving, slight though it may be, knowing that Jiro's legacy is in excellent hands, another warm surprise in a film full of them.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2012)
Directed by David Gelb.

Posted by Andrew

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