Jiro Dreams of Sushi – 3 1/2 Buckets
It is a common piece of filmmaking wisdom that a great documentary should show viewers a world that they would never have encountered in their everyday lives, and Jiro Dreams of Sushi does exactly that. The title subject is an 85-year-old Tokyo sushi chef whose delicate touch and taste for his cuisine has made him a world-renowned Michelin award-winner, even though his restaurant only seats 10.
Director/cinematographer David Gelb indulges in the aesthetic beauty of each course that Jiro assembles, making the film a mouthwatering experience, even if you don’t eat sushi (I don’t). But Jiro Dreams of Sushi is about so much more than Jiro’s $300+ meal — it’s about the value of a strong work ethic (Jiro never takes a day off), the traditional order of Japanese families (Jiro trains his eldest son to take over the business, while his younger son starts his own sushi restaurant), and how incredibly passionate someone can become for what may seem like a mundane, mechanical trade on the surface. Even at a tight 82 minutes, Gelb packs as many rich themes into the film as there are flavors in Jiro’s precise, honed delicacies. (Speaking of which, you will hardly believe how steep the learning curve for his prep cooks is.)
For as idea-filled as Jiro Dreams of Sushi is, however, it never loses its sense of humanity. We don’t know a lot about Jiro’s past other than that he was kicked out of the house at age nine, during the Great Depression, and that this drove him to his craft. But Jiro’s admirable devotion is so distinctly human that it allows the viewer to forge a personal connection with him that makes the film feel intimate, sometimes poignant. Even if you don’t care the least bit about sushi, you will care about and look up to this master chef. For compelling filmmaking (from a first-time theatrical documentarian, no less) about a great subject, you will have a hard time finding better than Jiro Dreams of Sushi.
* * *
Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2012, USA). Originally reviewed at the 2011 San Diego Asian Film Festival (11.2.2011). Produced by Joey Carey, Ross M. Dinerstein, Kevin Iwashina, Chris Kelly, Stefan Nowicki, Tom Pelligrini, and Matt Weaver. Directed by David Gelb. Featuring Jiro Ono and Yoshikazu Ono. Distributed by Magnolia Pictures. Rated PG, with a running time of 81 minutes.