Apologies for the break last week. I bought a new toy–a Nexus 7 Android tablet–and just didn’t have much of anything to say. Instead, I watched a bunch of movies. So you get a few days of movie reviews.
First up is Jiro Dreams of Sushi, a documentary about Jiro Ono, an 85-year-old man considered by many to be the best sushi chef in the world. He runs a very small restaurant–and by very small, I mean 10 seats–in the basement of a building next to the Ginza subway station in Tokyo, has people waiting months for reservations, and was even awarded a Michelin 3-star award.
For those lucky enough to get into the restaurant, the food is, according to all, phenomenal. The courses are fixed but change daily based on the ingredients available–it’s all sushi, but three courses worth. You get 20 pieces of sushi, all served one piece at a time as they’re made in front of you by Jiro and/or his oldest son. The price is fixed at around $350 for a meal that lasts the better part of 20 to 30 minutes.
Sure, this doesn’t seem on the surface like a really good subject for a documentary, but like all good documentaries about individuals, it’s not really about the man, his sushi, his sons or even his restaurant. It’s really about what has turned out to be a successful philosophy of life and how people should fit in the world.
Jiro is more of a self-made man than most everyone else who claim to be self-made: he was basically kicked out of his home at the age of nine, and started almost immediately as an apprentice making sushi. So after over 75 years working in the same field, while some say he has perfected his craft, he insists that he is continuing to try to perfect the art of making sushi, and continually pushes himself and invents new types of sushi.
Because he’s self-made, the film focuses pretty heavily on his two sons, and particularly on his eldest son, who is in line to inherit the restaurant after Jiro is no longer able to work there. And perhaps that’s a sad thing, because almost universally, people interviewed in the film said that even though the son could become a better sushi chef than his father, he’ll always be compared unfavorably to Jiro. Simply because he isn’t Jiro.
And I think that’s part of the point of the film, to show us that in the end, Jiro and his sons are tremendously talented, Jiro is humble and yet has an air of arrogance because of his success, and that sushi making is like all other types of cooking–it can be a tremendous art form, but frequently is reduced to a common, cookie-cutter, fast-food style of cuisine that ignores the joy that food can really bring to your life.
Visually, the film is striking, made very stylistically and simply. It doesn’t try to get cute but yet is very pretty. And it’s actually pretty engaging because Jiro and his sons and the apprentices in the restaurant are all interesting in their own way.
The rating here is tricky–I really like this, which should rate four out of five stars, but then again, there’s no reason to need to ever go back and watch this movie again, which is one of my criteria for deciding how to rate a movie. So I’m going to give it a 3.5 out of 5 stars.
See you tomorrow.