Jiro Dreams of Sushi
Directed by David Gelb
Featuring Jiro Ono
Available to stream on Netflix, HuluPlus, and Amazon Prime Instant Video
In this current list of reflections I’ve written about the obsession, love, passion, and joy that springs from food. Now take those four things, add a little rice, wrap it up in seaweed and you’ll almost have what Jiro Dreams of Sushi has. But there’s one thing missing. It’s that final ingredient that makes this movie stand so far above the rest, and the same one that gave Jiro Ono a three-star Michelin rating. That ingredient is dedication.
This is neither a movie about a man nor about food. It’s about the connection. Jiro cannot exist apart from his sushi. At the time of the film he was 85 years old, had been making sushi since age ten, and allegedly had never taken a break longer than a few days he was in the hospital after a heart attack. He hates vacations almost as much as he hates rubbery octopus, and states matter-of-factly that his body will not be able to function if he retires. He will wither away.
Jiro often describes his work through little life lessons like this: “Once you decide on your occupation… you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success… and is the key to being regarded honorably.” What an absolutely Japanese thing to say. Unlike many chefs who are always looking for the next thing, he holds to the belief that one should perfect what they do. So he’s been making essentially the same food his entire life. Supremacy is his virtue. He may serve the same dishes week after week, but they’re better every time.
I was a little surprised to see how unadorned Jiro’s sushi is. Being a California native, I’m used to the restaurant variety of sushi that’s rolled up, caked in batter, or slathered in sriracha. But great art is often subtle and it seems that is the case here. It’s really all about the fish at Ono’s restaurant. The ingredients are all sourced from experts on individual fish. They only buy tuna from a tuna expert. They only listen to the advice of the shrimp master. One great strength of this movie is that we are invited into a world we know nothing about and allowed to gawk at it, as the second half of the movie quickly evolves from a character study into a melange of piscine pornography.
Near the end of the movie, a piece of information is revealed which I won’t give away. I will only say that piece of information changes the way we view Jiro’s food and his restaurant. I hope not to give anything away by what I write next, but the reveal tells us that the quality of Jiro’s sushi is beyond only himself. It is not simply one man’s dedication to the art of cooking. It is rather an accumulation that has been building for centuries. Jiro is not a god figure. He is not even a hero. He is just a man who has sacrificed for his calling–one man of many. But he has played his part as best he can, and given more to the world of food than most can ever dream of.