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Jiro is not an easy celebration of sushi - it is certainly not simply
stunning shots of food on plates - it is rather a more difficult and
even challenging film about the complex nature of obsession,
perfection, and the discipline and almost OCD behavior that it takes to
become the world's best.
Jiro is acknowledged as the world's best - his restaurant in a pass in an underground station in Tokyo sits 9 people at a time, has to be booked at least a month in advance, and costs the best part of a week's wages. Yet no-one would hesitate - this is, as Michelin recognizes, worth a trip to Japan just to go and eat there.
The film succeeds as it is itself a near perfect reflection of the same ethos - it becomes apparent very quickly that this is not sentimental romantic filming - it chooses to avoid rich color, and in the editing and, in particular, the composition of the shots is singularly well-thought through. Many shots are based on the golden mean, and placed exactly two-thirds to the right of frame - and there is throughout a sense of real thought and balance. The Peter Greenaway-like score add to the general sense of rhythm and balance here.
The documentary itself is particular and peculiar - it is not in itself a documentary that embellishes - it focuses on Jiro, his sons, their suppliers, the apprentices, the produce, and the product - but we always feel that there are more stories untold than told here - Jiro is not, in the main, likable - but he is totally and utterly committed and passionate to the point of coldness about his process - in a way that few are anymore - and in this sense the film is also more an elegy than a eulogy - Jiro's work ethic is gone forever even now - who wants to work 16 hours a day for 75 years anymore?
We are watching the recording of extinction, and it is still beautiful. So we end up with a stark yet beautiful film that both records the passing of greatness and questions it. It is certainly one of the best documentaries of 2012.
I was thoroughly charmed by the film. When I read the synopsis, I thought I would be bored to tears. But it's a lovely, poignant, challenging documentary about excellence, discipline, vocational call, tenacity. The film challenged me to think about my own persistence, an ongoing striving to improve and grow, doing work for the love of it and much less so for the financial gain. the documentary highlights the ability to succeed after incredible hardship, and some would say, cruelty. The cinematography was elegant, the music varied and interesting, the precision of the art of making sushi, the rigor and discipline to do it well, the requirement to be surrounded by others who always want to excel. A wonderful film and I'll see it again...and again. It even made me want to eat sushi...which I never do.
When I got the invitation to go to this film, I was extremely hesitant
and worried as to what I was going to be viewing. Even to go so far as
to accept the impending nap I was about to have.
I was sorely mistaken about getting a nap. From the very beginning the story and life lessons presented were gripping. True respect for the dedication, hard work and absolute presence of mind to clear away all the minutiae that many of us get caught up in to focus on the details that are so very important.
I have actually seen action films with more lulls and uninteresting parts then what I watched in this film. It's a great story.
It is a sad but true fact that modern-day society has tended to place
too much emphasis on the pursuit of success defined in tangible and
even grandiose forms but not so much on the far more meaningful pursuit
of perfection. No wonder then that 'Jiro Dreams of Sushi', a thoughtful
and absolutely inspiring portrait of the 85-year-old sushi chef Jiro
Ono, comes like a breath of fresh air, demonstrating the superior
fulfilment one gets by putting perfection ahead of success- since it is
with the former that the latter will inevitably follow.
As is with most of our readers, we had not heard of Jiro Ono before this documentary, but here's just a few facts about him to tantalise you. Jiro is the owner of a 10-seater basement-level restaurant Sukiyabashi Jiro accessible via underpass en route to the Ginza subway station. Yet despite the fact that the restaurant has a fixed-menu, serves only sushi, and will set you back a whopping ¥30,000 (or $$480), you have to make reservations at least one month in advance in order to secure a seat.
And here's the most amazing thing- that humble restaurant has been awarded three Michelin stars, with both celebrity chefs Anthony Bourdain and Joel Robuchon proclaiming that their best sushi experience was at that very establishment. It's a fascinating subject for a documentary, and debut feature helmer David Gelb more than does his subject justice with a thoroughly intriguing look at Jiro's recipe for perfection as well as the dynamic between Jiro and his eldest son cum future heir to the business Yoshikazu.
It's no secret to reveal that dedication, hard work and perseverance are the ingredients to Jiro's success today- and Gelb demonstrates this through interviews with a prominent Japanese food critic Yamamoto Masuhiro, current and former apprentices, and of course Jiro himself. Each of these are informative and insightful, yielding different perspectives on the master or as the Japanese would call him, 'shokunin', which means artisan and among the ones you won't forget are his exacting ten-year training regime for staff and his constant and consistent pursuit for betterment.
Yet any portrayal of Jiro cannot be complete without his two sons - the elder Yoshikazu mentioned earlier and his younger son Takashi, who runs the restaurant's only other branch in the upscale Roppongi Hills neighbourhood in Tokyo. Instead of a college education, both sons were trained by their father from young as sushi chefs, and as Jiro himself admits, their tutelage could not have been any much easier than the other kitchen workers who spend hours fanning sheets of nori seaweed over a coal fire or practise making sweet omelette 200 times.
Throughout the movie, Gelb deliberately teases the question of whether the younger Ono, Yoshikazu, is indeed worthy enough to take over the reins from Jiro. It's not easy trying to live up to the expectations of a perfectionist father ("Jiro's ghost will always be there watching," he says with resignation at one point) but the answer as to whether Yoshikazu is good enough, is absolutely gratifying when it comes. Compared to Yoshikazu, less emphasis is paid on Takashi, except to imply that Takashi's methods will never be the same as that of Jiro's.
Interesting to note too that Jiro isn't the only one so passionate about his work- in fact, as Yoshikazu brings us on a tour of the teeming Tsujiki market where the restaurant, like most if not all other sushi joints in Tokyo, gets its catch, it becomes clear that Jiro has been able to keep up such high standards in his food precisely because his suppliers share the same demanding standards over the catch they sell. It's almost a code of practice between the two parties, and even Jiro's rice supplier refuses to sell the same rice he does to Jiro to the folks at the Grand Hyatt because he thinks he might as well not let them have it if they don't know how to cook it.
The attitude displayed by these individuals, including of course Jiro, is truly admirable and like the people in the film, Gelb's documentary while multi-faceted in its subjects, remains as its titular character singular of purpose in reminding its audiences the reason for Jiro's extraordinary success thus far. Of course, there are the requisite mouth-watering shots of freshly made sushi to tantalise your tastebuds, but what ultimately rings loud and true is the very qualities that has gotten Jiro recognised by the Japanese government as a 'national treasure'.
And as far-fetched as the title may sound, it is actually meant to be taken literally "in dreams I have grand visions of sushi," says Jiro, the pursuit of which forms the very essence of his being. We dare go as far as to say that watching 'Jiro Dreams of Sushi' is a life-changing experience, one that forces you to reflect and re-evaluate your priorities, to place perfection over success, and to recognise that the pursuit of one's dreams can truly be fulfilling.
Sushi lovers will be hypnotized by the 85 year old subject of the
documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi. Jiro has spent his life seeking
perfection in sushi preparation, and Michelin agrees that he has come
close by awarding him three stars, unprecedented for an octogenarian.
Jiro's restaurant Sukiyabashi Jiro in a Tokyo office building basement has reservations available a month away. He and his heir, Yoshikazu labor all day to buy the best raw fish at the market and sell the best sushi. Nothing less.
The film does a good job tracking the preparation, from picking one out of ten fish at any time to delicately shaping tuna around rice or massaging octopi for 20 minutes before preparation. Buying the best rice is another ritual that has its own rules, and Jiro rules.
Although the documentary can be repetitious, moments of beauty accompany the process such as likening serving sushi to a concert with different moods and tempos.
It might be best to see this film on a full stomach. Otherwise you'll be racing to the nearest Asian bistro. Not a bad thing.
I never am quite the foodie, and never cared too much about Michelin
Guide rated restaurants around the world. But Jiro Dreams of Sushi has
made me think twice, that in my lifetime I just might afford that 30000
Yen meal prepared by one of the best, if not THE best sushi master
around, and his team comprising of his eldest son and apprentices who
relentlessly work at perfecting and continuously improving upon their
skills and gastronomical offering in the humble looking food blessed
with delicious flavours. And there's not much of a secret to their
success, other than using nothing but the finest and freshest of
ingredients, backed by an uncompromising philosophy of hard work and
Jiro Dreams of Sushi is like a biographical film, and more. It chronicles the humble beginnings of chef Jiro Ono, recognized as a national treasure in Japan for his bringing of honor to Japanese cuisine, and peers into his professional work ethics that defines a perfectionist. And these lessons learnt apply to more than just sushi preparation and presentation, but are sound lessons not only about wanting to do well, but to excel in what one does. It boils down to pride in one's work, and reminds of how one should be chasing excellence and not success, since the latter is something that will automatically follow once the former is achieved.
And success is something that Jiro's Sukiyabashi Jiro restaurant in Ginza, Tokyo has garnered with its Michelin Guide Three Stars rating, but the chef is hardly stopping at being satisfied with that. There are plenty of interview segments that has the master providing anecdotes that nullifies the usually stern looking demeanour he has when wanting to do the best for his diners. With only ten seats in his shop, it's little wonder about the attention that's being paid to the idiosyncrasies of each diner, with little unsaid touches that make the experience unique and unforgettable, though some may say it's kinda stressful to be eating there.
But make no mistake, the experience is something one should be looking at, and David Gelb's film is like a walking menu of some of the best on offer at the restaurant. The cinematography here is simply astounding and beautiful, adding a dimension to the individual, intricately prepared sushi pieces up close, that you can almost smell and taste what it may have smelled and tasted like. And that's not all, with Gelb being very conscious at painting a very romantic, rhythmic pace for the restaurant interior, and the chefs and apprentices in slow motion was pure poetry, akin to the need to slow down when dining at Sukiyabashi Jiro in order to savour the food, and to take in the experience completely. Watching the film on an empty stomach, is like playing with fire and seeking to be gastronomically tempted.
To balance what would be talking heads, Gelb's documentary ventures out to catch glimpses of Jiro Ono outside of the restaurant in his rare days off, with celebration and recognition of those who had made him successful. The almost still shot of his entire team flanking him, brought nothing less than the majestic, clockwork effort everyone chips in, with screen time also devoted to key suppliers (and reason enough to venture into the auctions at the famed Tsukiji Fish Market), whom Jiro has to trust to make decisions on purchasing, pricing, stocking and delivering nothing but the best, from the fish, right down to the rice. Experts in their own field, you cannot help but to feel a sense of professional politeness amongst their interaction, and think it's a Japanese thing, but it's true that one should not forget those who had helped in any way in one's ascension to success. Yet another lesson learnt with some subtlety.
The best though, came out of the blue. Jiro Dreams of Sushi is really an exercise into continuity, and the leaving behind of a legacy with the hopes in an Asian context that one's descendants continue with the good work and goodwill already established, to see something so painstakingly created, and sustained, having a life of its own. Gelb's film dedicates a good portion of the film to Jiro Ono's two sons, one who's running the branch at Roppongi Hills (and a Michelin Guide Two Stars, no less), and the elder one at the Ginza outlet, according to tradition, who will inherit the main venue when the inevitable happens. Talk about pressure, and the long shadow that would be cast for one to try and get out of. And there's a surprise installed that provided something of a sucker punch, that affirms Sukiyabashi Jiro, is under fine hands indeed.
It takes more than a decade to learn the ropes, and many more years of hard work and dedication, which to Jiro Ono is a never ending journey of improvement, to become a sushi master, and Gelb's film masterfully captures key aspects of this profession of dedication, with lessons in life never sounding preachy at any point. With good food and well placed humour, Jiro Dreams of Sushi more than deserves a five star film rating, and is definitely one of the best I've seen this year. Now to put some money aside so that the next trip to Tokyo can bring me either to the Roppongi or Ginza outlets.
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This film is about a 10-seat sushi restaurant, which has earned a
top-level 3-star Michelin rating. And it's about the 85-year-old master
chef, and his two sons.
I tend to write negatively, and I think I may simply be incapable of writing a glowing review, so take my score of 8, and imagine I wrote something 8-ish here.
First, the sushi. Yes, the film does deliver some food porn. The sushi appears to be mainly nigiri (hand-formed, fish on top of rice). The best example of this is when the three phases of Jiro's meals are described. Lots of pretty sushi are presented. But not as much as you'd think. This documentary isn't really about the sushi, so you don't really learn any sushi secrets.
There's also the fish market, and sushi preparation. There are some unpleasant scenes of living creatures becoming food, so be warned. They do briefly discuss the vanishing quantities and varieties of fish, but don't spend much time on that.
Mainly, the film is about Jiro's obsession with sushi. I don't say "improving sushi" because although they try to give you the impression that Jiro is always improving, the few improvements they talk about are: using fresher ingredients rather than refrigerated, massaging the octopus for a longer time, hoarding a particular kind of rice, serving women smaller sizes, and serving left-handed people from the other side of the plate. Those aren't very satisfying improvements to learn about, nor do we learn of the process of improvement.
The film is more about Jiro and his two sons in the sushi business. One works with him, and will inherit his place. The other is already operating a mirror-image shop in a different location. We learn a lot about their working relationships, but not really much at all about the rest of their lives.
As presented in the film, Jiro seems to live a very shallow and small existence, and yet somehow he reproduced twice. How did that even happen? While he seemed to care for his sons, in a fashion, I didn't get a sense he formed any meaningful connections with other people, or even with them, outside of business. Yet, he seems quite happy with it that way. At the same time, he puts so much effort into what is basically a frivolous enterprise.
Is it good business planning, or the result of crazy obsession? Is it even perfectionism, or are we being trolled? Do you need to have the nose of a master chef to appreciate how good the sushi is? Should the rest of us care? We are told cleanliness is one of the five essential characteristics of a master chef, yet the chefs seemed to be touching their itchy, runny noses a lot. I think one chef wiped his nose on his arm. Since all the food is touched by hand immediately before going to someone's mouth, if I saw anyone looking sick, I'd walk out. Do they just talk a good game? I compare it to art that is worth millions of dollars. Of course, no canvas is worth that. People just talk it up, and up it goes, until people realize it's just paint and canvas, and down it comes again.
Despite the omissions and seeming inconsistencies, it is still a moving film. I think viewers will relate to the ideas of craftsmanship, quality, dedication, hard work, and family business, and will enjoy knowing that the real star of the family may not actually be Jiro anymore. Anyhow, this is a guy who remains very successful near the end of his life, and his routine seems to satisfy him thoroughly, leaving the viewer with a smile.
This is a movie about food, but it's much deeper in its story and
content. I was truly inspired by a man's pursuit of perfection, the
dedications of the understudies, the family dynamic between father and
son, and the cultural beauty of Japanese crafts. Yes there are shots of
"food porn" woven in, but the movie is charming and much deeper than
slow-motion food shots (not that I'm complaining, some shots are
The young director has good command of the camera, and drives the movie through interviews. People in the theater were applauding at the end. I can't wait to get the DVD.
There are no spoilers in this review simply because there is nothing in
"Jiro Dreams of Sushi" to spoil. There is no plot as such. It is
strictly a portrait of Jiro Ono, the world's greatest sushi-maker. He
has no hobbies or interests other than sushi. The only major change in
his life in the last 40 years is that he quit smoking. He groomed both
his now middle-aged sons (somewhat against their will) to be sushi
The point of the film seems to be two-fold. The main purpose seems to be to assure Jiro's legions of fans that his elder son Yoshikazu will follow his father's recipes exactingly and will make no changes to the restaurant once Jiro dies. And the secondary purpose is to show the importance of sustainable fishing.
If you're looking for a narrative plot-driven film, you'll be disappointed. But if you are a foodie who likes seeing behind the scenes at a fine restaurant, this is the movie for you. Be warned though: You have to see this in a theater near a sushi restaurant or you'll be disappointed in whatever meal you eat following the film.
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