In this lovely epicurean movie, documentary filmmaker David Gelb makes a convincing case that Jiro Ono, owner and master of the tiny Sukiyabashi Jiro eatery in Tokyo's Ginza district, is the best sushi chef in the world - and perhaps the greatest of all time. The 85-year-old chef has been doing this job since he was a boy, and although not prone to philosophize, he will occasionally admit to such deep thoughts as, "There is no perfection, only improvement."
Starring: Jiro Ono and Yoshikazu Ono
Directed by: David Gelb
Parental advisory: none
Running time: 82 minutes
Rating: Four stars out of five
Certain titles can pull a viewer in: The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner; Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; Shaun of the Dead. Add to that Jiro Dreams of Sushi, and be prepared to pair this lovely, epicurean movie with dinner. But unless you live in Tokyo's Ginza district and made a reservation at Jiro's restaurant more than a year ago, your meal may feel like an anticlimax.
Documentary filmmaker David Gelb makes a convincing case that Jiro Ono, owner and master of the tiny Sukiyabashi Jiro eatery, is the best sushi chef in the world - and perhaps the greatest of all time. The 85-year-old chef has been doing this job since he was a boy, and although not prone to philosophize, he will occasionally admit to such deep thoughts as, "There is no perfection, only improvement."
That may be true, but 70-plus years has put Jiro as close to flawlessness as it's possible to come - especially since he never takes any time off work. How he found time to sire two sons is a mystery, but it's easy to believe his statement, half-apology and half-boast, that, "I wasn't much of a father."
Jiro is a purist among purists. Briefly sidelined by a heart attack 15 years ago, he gave up smoking and stopped going to the fish market for supplies, sending his eldest son and heir (now in his 50s) in his place. Gelb follows "young" Yoshikazu to the market and finds a tuna merchant who sometimes has no tuna for sale. When the fishers arrive with their catch, he says, he decides which is best. If he can't buy it, why settle for anything else?
Even Jiro's rice supplier is obsessive. When the five-star Hyatt Tokyo approached him to buy the same rice Jiro uses, he refused. Even if he had sold it, "You can't cook rice like this just with big talk." Jiro's underlings (one of whom spent a decade in training before being allowed to cook eggs) have precise strategies that include fanning the rice and massaging the octopus prior to preparation. It's like a seafood spa.
Hanging over the documentary is the sticky question of what will happen when Jiro retires or dies. (Neither seems likely any time soon.) Yoshikazu is prepared to do his filial duty and take over, but even he is resigned to the fact that he is Prince Charles to Jiro's Elizabeth. Second son Takashi has opened his own sushi restaurant across town, a mirror image of his dad's 10-seat establishment, since he is right-handed, where Jiro is a lefty.
As with any food documentary, we have to take it on faith that the sushi is, as one critic says, a concerto of taste. (The soundtrack obliges with classical accompaniment.) But consider that diners regularly pay upwards of $350 for a meal that may last just 15 minutes, or that the snooty Michelin Guide gives Jiro's joint its highest rating, one of just 106 restaurants on Earth to be so honoured. Clearly, Jiro's dreams are a gastronomical reality.