Jiro Dreams of Sushi
In the basement of a Tokyo high-rise, not far from a subway stop, sits a tiny, perfectly innocent, completely innocuous restaurant. It is owned and run by an 85-year-old gentlemen, and seats only ten people at the counter. It serves nothing but sushi, and a meal normally doesn’t take much longer than 15 minutes to eat. Yet it has been awarded three Michelin stars, has a three month waiting list, and costs upwards of $300 dollars per head, effectively making it one of the most expensive restaurants (time to money wise) in the world. This is because, according to many, it is the greatest sushi restaurant on earth and its proprietor and head chef, Jiro, is the greatest sushi maker to have ever lived.
David Gelb’s documentary is a beautifully shot portrait of a man whose obsession with sushi wavers between love and utter logic-defying madness. To say he’s a perfectionist doesn’t begin to do his approach to work justice. He massages the restaurant’s octopus for 50 minutes before serving, agonises over the customer layout across the counter and forces an apprentice to practise ringing out towels correctly for weeks before even learning to cut a boiled egg.
After running away from home at a young age, he became an apprentice at a restaurant, and 70 years later, has seemingly elevated the art of sushi to its pinnacle. He has worked every day of his life, taking days off only when forced to as a result of national holidays or to attend funerals. He still prepares the food in front of his customers and then watches with an overwhelming intensity that terrifies even the sternest of food critics.
But as elegantly as the film is constructed and how beautifully its subject’s creations and legacy have been captured (and they are captured in all their mouth-watering glory – don’t watch on an empty stomach), you can’t help but get the feeling that there’s some deeper mystery or secret at work here, that we are simply looking at a two-dimensional telling of this story. We know nothing of the man other than what he has given his life to. At those prices, he must be extremely wealthy, yet there is no discussion of his life beyond the restaurant: almost all of the film is shot within its tiny confines. We never see where or how he lives.
The film must be the definitive documentary about sushi, but over the course of its running time, I found myself wondering more and more about who this man was. What conflicts has he encountered? Have any of his dreams ever been unrealised? Does he have any regrets?
But the surface is never scratched, which leaves an unsettling and ultimately sad feeling in the gut. There’s an inherent tragedy to Jiro and the viewer is left with a feeling that, though he has dedicated his life to an artistry that he truly loves, you can’t help but wonder, at what cost?
Jiro Dreams of Sushi is released 11th January 2013.
Watch the trailer for Jiro Dreams of Sushi below: