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In the basement of a Tokyo office building, 85 year old sushi master Jiro Ono works tirelessly in his world renowned restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro. As his son Yoshikazu faces the pressures of stepping into his father's shoes and taking over the legendary restaurant, Jiro relentlessly pursues his lifelong quest to create the perfect piece of sushi. Written by
Respectful Tribute to a Sushi Master's Unwavering Quest for Perfection
Located in a downtown Tokyo subway station, Sukiyabashi Jiro is an inconspicuous subterranean restaurant with just ten counter seats, yet it has the distinction of being the only sushi restaurant with a three-star Michelin rating. David Gelb's meticulously produced 2012 documentary tells the story of Jiro Ono, an octogenarian perfectionist whose constant striving for culinary transcendence has made him legendary among epicureans in the know. He loves his job, as he readily admits upfront, and while a model of stoic diligence and invariable routine, Ono does show his adoration in unexpected ways that manifest themselves through the unassuming pride he takes in his work. He even imagines new sushi creations in his sleep, thus the title. Such an unwavering quest does take its toll on his two sons who must find their way out of his shadow.
His younger son Takashi managed to escape the constant glare of his father by running his own premium sushi restaurant in the Roppongi Hills area of Tokyo, one that doesn't bother to compete with his father's. His older son Yoshikazu, however, bears the burden of the family legacy as the one to carry on his father's standards after he retires. Over fifty and still an apprentice, Yoshikazu patiently waits for his turn at running the flagship restaurant foregoing earlier dreams of becoming a race car driver. Since his father suffered a heart attack at seventy, he has taken over the critical task of getting the best fish possible at the world-renowned Tsukiji fish market. Gelb does a particularly nice job of showing the hurly-burly atmosphere of the pre-dawn tuna auctions and the lives of the men running the tiny stalls selling fresh seafood of all kinds. Perhaps by design, the film is comparatively more opaque in having us understand the genesis of the elder Ono's drive toward perfection.
While one contributing factor was the absence of Ono's father's absence, it is unclear who actually did influence him to become a sushi chef. There is also hardly a mention of the chef's wife, even though there is an extended passage of a reunion with his childhood pals who characterize him as something of a bully. Interviews with former co-workers shed some light onto the chef's stoicism. In fact, one of Japan's better known food critics admits to being intimidated by patronizing Ono's sushi bar due to the master's overwhelming artistry and attention to detail. Toward that end, I would have liked to have seen more scenes focused on the actual preparation of the sushi rather than simply admiring them on the counter once they are finished. Still, this is a unique look into a man who has not gone gentle into the good night in his quest for the perfect piece of sushi.
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