“Beautiful” is the word Todd Leong used to describe Jiro Dreams of Sushi. The Editorial Director of LUCKYRICE said the word approximately seven times during his brief introduction of the documentary, which screened at Japan Society on March 5.
So, how is Jiro Dreams of Sushi?
It’s . . . beautiful.
The visually stunning cinematography combined with the story of Jiro Ono, an 85-year-old sushi chef who continues to work long hours at his Tokyo restaurant, make this film, which opened in theaters today, something to add to your must-see list.
Originally planning to do a film about simply sushi, director David Gelb shifted his focus to Jiro, who is considered the greatest sushi chef in the world. The result is Gelb’s feature film debut, a thoughtful, funny, and poignant look at the Japanese work ethic, the pursuit of perfection, and the bonds of family.
Jiro’s restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro, is a tiny, ten-seat sushi bar located in a subway station. (This isn’t as bad as it sounds; Japanese subway stations are filled with clean, respectable eating establishments.) Still, it was a shock to the Japanese restaurant world when the place was awarded three stars by the Michelin Guide, meaning “exceptional cuisine, worth a journey.”
Jiro serves only sushi. No appetizers. No other dishes. Just sushi. Jiro uses the best quality fish, which is purchased by his older son, Yoshikazu, at the famed Tsukiji Fish Market each day. The sushi is painstakingly prepared; the apprentices massage the octopus 40 to 50 minutes, and the timing of the marinade must be exact. And Jiro is in charge of quality control, tasting each fish before declaring it worthy of serving.
Jiro has a reputation for being intimidating. He sets one piece of sushi in front of a customer – who made his reservation at least a month prior – and watches him eat it. Then he prepares the next piece.
For all his stern appearances, Jiro seems to have a warm heart and a charming sense of humor. He realizes that his pursuit of sushi perfection caused him to be an imperfect father. Whether they wanted to or not, Jiro’s sons have followed in his footsteps. Yoshikazu, the first son, will run the Ginza restaurant, assuming Jiro ever retires; the younger, Takashi, runs the branch in Roppongi.
After 75 years of making sushi, the 3 Michelin stars, and all of the accolades – he’s also a National Treasure – Jiro still wants to improve. Judging by the (beautiful) shots of succulent pieces of (beautiful) sushi, there can’t be much room for improvement.
During the panel discussion that followed the Japan Society screening, Gelb was joined onstage by Chef Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin and Chef Masato Shimizu of 15 East with The Story of Sushi author Trevor Corson as moderator. As Gelb recounted what it was like to have exclusive access to Jiro, Chef Ripert told the story of his dining experience with the greatest sushi chef in the world.
Chef Shimizu left the discussion early so that he and his staff could prepare sushi by hand, which was served to the Japan Society crowd one plate at a time. The meal was worth the wait. Some of what Chef Shimizu served was (beautifully) featured in Jiro Dreams of Sushi, including tuna, kohada (gizzard shad), uni (sea urchin, which was flown in from Santa Barbara), and tamagoyaki (sweet egg omelet).
As the attendees of the screening waited for the sushi in a line that snaked through Japan Society’s lobby, they talked about how beautiful the film is. Time Out New York’s review calls the film “a doc so delicious you could eat it.” Indeed.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a dreamlike documentary that will leave your mouth watering for sushi. Beautifully shot. Beautifully edited. Beautifully scored. It’s simply . . . well, beautiful.