Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Director: David Gelb

‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’ is a documentary film that features master sushi chef Jiro Ono, the owner of a sushi restaurant in Ginza called ‘Sukiyabashi Jiro’. A seat at the table in Jiro’s restaurant will set you back at least $300, and the restaurant is booked out a month in advance. The accolades for Jiro include honours from the Japanese Emperor as a National Treasure of Culinary Arts. His restaurant holds the highly coveted rank of three Michelin stars, and has played host to guests such as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, US President Barack Obama and famous French Chef Joël Robuchon, who calls it one of his favourite restaurants in the world.

So what’s his secret? This documentary by David Gelb is a fascinating (and mouth-watering) story of the pursuit of culinary perfection. We are given a place at Jiro’s table (no snacks or alcohol served), as each dish is brushed with ‘nikiri’ soy sauce and presented tantalisingly for the viewer to feast their eyes upon.

The film explores the spirit of the ‘shokunin’, a master craftsman who displays unparalleled devotion to consistently high quality and continual improvement through repetition, routine and hard work. The staff of Jiro’s restaurant are the very personification of the typified Japanese work ethic of dedicating oneself to perfection, through years of hard training and personal sacrifice. There are also fascinating cultural insights to be gained with a thrilling tour of the bustling Tsukiji fish market, as well as commentary on the history of sushi and its spread worldwide.

Most interesting of all is the study of the man and his relationship with his sons. 89 years of age (and showing no sign of slowing down), Jiro is a kind and charming personality who is generous with his insights on life and his work. Self-disciplined and forward-looking, he extends his expectations of high standards to his two sons, Yoshikazu (set to one day inherit the restaurant) and Takashi (the owner of his own two Michelin starred restaurant), and there are some interesting themes raised about the pressures of carrying on a father’s legacy, and the virtues of letting your children fend for themselves.

Jiro seems almost a man out of time and out of place in scenes outside his restaurant in his native Japan, and the film ponders the changing nature of modern society that increasingly contrasts with the life of a ‘shokunin’. For most young people seeking an easy job and a steady income, ten years of training and a lifetime of hard work is not an appealing prospect. 

At the same time, the restaurant is sensitive to some key outside pressures, such as trends in Japanese cuisine and changes in food supplies. There is a simple, practical conservation message about the dangers of unsustainable fishing practices, and it’s no surprise that Jiro himself has been outspoken about alarming developments in the industry that force him to use different varieties of fish as others disappear.

A visit to ‘Sukiyabashi Jiro’ feels like a return to a simpler time, with simple dishes of miraculously high quality served only with green tea. You too will no doubt experience dreams of sushi after viewing a sample of Jiro’s delectable dining delights. Best not to watch it on an empty stomach.

 

Introduced by Greg Corbett  

Greg Corbett has been visiting Japan since 1998. He has a keen interest in Japanese language and culture, and helps to organise a number of Japanese cultural events in Adelaide.