Published Mar 15, 2012At 85, master sushi chef Jiro Ono may be old, but he never misses a day of work, overseeing every minute detail of the food on offer at Sukiyabashi Jiro, his miniscule restaurant in the heart of Tokyo. It's staffed by Jiro, his eldest son, Yoshikazu, and a group of dedicated apprentices. The only sushi restaurant in the world to be awarded the highest rating from the Michelin guide, Sukiyabashi Jiro seats ten and requires reservations at least a month in advance. It serves only sushi.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi, a new documentary from director David Gelb, is as low-key as its subject. In contrast to typical boiler-room restaurant docs, usually featuring an alpha-male Gordon Ramsay-type barking out instructions to kitchens full of rough-living, but talented drunks, Jiro Dreams of Sushi cops the austere style of Ozu, quietly building its inside story of how the world's best sushi restaurant runs and who the mastermind is behind the curtain. There's no soap opera here, no high drama, no histrionics, but there is a story of extreme dedication to craft, particularly within the uncertainty of post-war Japan, a shadown that still looms over Jiro and his generation.
While artfully done, and as patient and methodical as the master, Gelb's approach feels a little sterile and would have benefited from some critical distance. As an outsider getting to know Jiro and his work, Gelb spent so much time just trying to peel back the layers that he became overly enamoured with his subject. While this hampers the film from achieving greatness, Jiro Dreams of Sushi is inherently fascinating as a character study and it reveals the heroism in dedication to craft.
Covering nearly every aspect of day-to-day operations, from the fish market to the elaborate preparations for the nightly service, the doc dangles enough behind-the-scenes sumptuousness without succumbing to simple food porn. Careful not to open up every little secret for rivals to pinch, Jiro Dreams of Sushi does a commendable job of establishing the uniqueness of Jiro's world. In the end, the simplicity and beauty of the master's creations speak for themselves. (eOne)