Starring: Jiro Ono, Yoshikazu Ono
Directed by: David Gelb
With 75 years working the same job and the number of accolades received, one would think that chef Jiro Ono would be content with where he stands in the culinary world. After all, he’s the first sushi chef to receive the coveted three Michelin star rating and has even been named a national treasure by his native country of Japan. But at 85 years of age Jiro still works as hard as he ever has and strives for perfection, a common theme in “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” a brisk documentary about the life and work of man regarded as the best sushi chef the world.
“Jiro Dreams of Sushi” is a minimalist film in every sense. The subject matter, storytelling, and cinematography are extremely straightforward. Director David Gelb, however, is able to make basic shots of preparing sushi elegant by slowing the camera down and making every single subtle hand movement completely dramatic and all the more deliberate. The minimalism isn’t just limited to the filmmaking. It is also represented in the way Jiro carries himself. He is a simple man that believes you must fall in love with your job and dedicate your life to your work. He lives according to a daily repeated routine. Even his restaurant is minimal. Located in a subway station, there are only 10-seats (that must be booked a month in advance) in the establishment and patrons get the same menu and same food every day.
One of the more dominant stories in “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” is Jiro’s reluctance to retire and the pressure on his son, Yoshikazu, to take over for his father when that time comes. As with Japanese tradition, the eldest son is meant to take over the father’s business when he is forced to stop by retirement or death. For Yoshikazu, taking over for the man who revolutionized sushi is quite the burden, especially considering that he himself is 50 years old. This subject is explored perfectly by Gelb, with interviews with Yoshikazu and Jiro, who reiterates how important it is that his son keeps his legacy alive for the rest of his life. Interviews from a Japanese food writer are also extremely insightful into the subject of sushi and on Jiro himself.
Admittedly, “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” doesn’t contain the most exciting subject matter. There are stretches of the film which only feature people preparing food or shopping at a fish market. Still, it is not often that you get to intimately peek into the life and study the craft of someone who is the best in the world at what they do. He is often hard on his employees (especially his son) as he craves perfection. The scenes in which we see Jiro calmly and confidently work and serve a table full of guests in culinary bliss demonstrate why perfection is so important to Jiro. With a runtime of only an hour and change, “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” makes for a light course that goes down as smooth as a Unagi roll dipped in wasabi.