Movie Review: Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011)

Jiro Dreams of Sushi is such an effective documentary that it's ruined sushi for me. I can never eat sushi again without comparing it to Jiro's...and I've never even eaten there!

The film chronicles the extraordinary titular character, who is 85 years old at the time of filming. He runs a 10-seat, $300-minimum sushi restaurant in Tokyo that's been awarded three Michelin stars, meaning it's worth the trip if you live outside Japan. Everyone is crazy about his sushi, and a lot of people are intimidated by the intensity of Jiro and his staff. They are super serious about their work, especially Jiro, who watches customers' reactions to his creations after he serves them their sushi one at a time.

The film's editing is superb and underlines the main themes of craftsmanship/artistry, discipline, skill, family, and the ecosystem that sustains the sushi business. Jiro is a shokunin (職人), a craftsman/artist of sushi. (I initially thought it was 食人, or "food person." An understandable fail, I guess.) He's been doing sushi for decades but is always trying to be better at his job. He loves sushi so much that he dreams about it. He invented special techniques to maintain perfect rice temperature, the freshness of shrimp, the softness of octopus, and so on.

His training regimen is so strict that some apprentices only last one day. It takes 10 years to be good at making sushi, apparently. You start out squeezing too-hot towels before you're allowed to touch food ingredients. At one point, Jiro reflects on how he was a "bad kid," but learned that you can turn your life around, as evidenced by his exalted status as the sushi master.

Jiro is to be succeeded by his eldest son, who is already 50 years old and surprised that his dad is still working. In addition to highlighting the seafood suppliers, who are themselves experts and artists in their fields, Yoshikazu notes that sustainability needs to be a concern--finding good catches in sufficient quantities is becoming harder as the years pass. He points to overfishing as a culprit: even young tuna are caught, rather than given the chance to grow to their full size.

The soundtrack uses familiar classical masterpieces and original compositions (that sound like Philip Glass but aren't) that complement the crisp cinematography and candid interviews. In revealing to viewers the world of a sushi master, director David Gelb also shows us what can be accomplished by good filmmaking. Jiro Dreams of Sushi is not food porn; it's a story of love, sacrifice, and joy.

TL; DR: An impressive documentary about a man who loves sushi.

This post brought to you by gobs of baby spit up. Le sigh.