Posted in Movies

Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011) Review

Story of an old japanese man who, through simple repetition and single-mindedness, succeeded in making the task of trying to surpass him impossible for his sons to accomplish. Happy Fathers day.

Thanks Obama.

‘Sup folks. Back again, this time with a review of the rather measured food documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi.

It is kind of tough to review documentaries. Typically when I review something, I target the underlying theme or message which the creator of the content was trying to convey. Be it through movies, music or artwork, an artist always puts some sort of thought, feeling or opinion into what they create. This is what self-expression is all about. Art is a creatively-driven, and arguably roundabout, method for saying what you think or feel. A review should be an effort to stare deep enough into the art to see what the artist was intending to say and giving your heartfelt response.

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I find it difficult to do this with a documentary, which is ironic because more often than not, a documentary is very straightforward in its presentation of the facts. This is what this is, this is it’s history, this is the story we are telling. This is the beginning, middle and end. There is structure and a sense of concreteness in a documentary which is not found in other works of art. That being said, this does not at all preclude documentaries from having opinions in them. Remember that almost all of the information is secondary, and while sources like interviews with primary witnesses are good, they have their share as well. Were they paid to be in the interview? Does the interview only have bits and pieces of what they said? If they are speaking a different language are the translations really capturing the meaning? These are questions that can be raised as to the factuality of the presented reality of the documentary.

And so with this little discussion, I will now jump into my review. Jiro Dreams of Sushi tells the story of Jiro Ono, the world renowned sushi chef and oldest man to receive a 3-star rating from the Michelin Guide. The film interlaces two stories. It tells the story of the past, following Jiro from his days as a child until the present where he consistently operates his restaurant Sukiyabashi Jiro, and simultaneously tells the story of Jiro’s children, both renowned sushi chefs in their own right, trying to understand what it will take to live up to their father’s legacy after his passing.

Jiro’s story basically culminates in learning that his secret to success was making simple sushi repeatedly until he learned how to create perfection from it. He discovered flavors and textures in well-known sushi that no one else had ever thought of and did it through simple, honest, daily labor. Each day, he had his routine. He learned how to get the best fish from Tsukiji market. He made the same sushi, and learned how to make it well. He did it every day and he never rested or went lax. His goal and pursuit was perfection through simple means. This does not mean less effort. While it may look like it takes less effort than the more experimental and spontaneous chefs, in the long term this is a philosophy of working which requires a level of patience that most renowned chefs could only dream of having. It takes devotion and belief in yourself. There is never a guarantee that anyone will succeed. But the ability to believe that your hard work will pay off is highly commendable, and the rewards he reaped from his patience and perseverance were astounding.

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Getting off topic for a bit (but I promise not for long), documentaries tend to have a singular color/tone/feeling about them. Bowling for Columbine feels like a dark comedy, as we try to laugh our way through tragedy while discovering the truth of the matter. King of Kong was a great underdog story, a shining arcade knight fighting against the evil mulleted overlord.

Why mention this? I think Jiro was the first documentary that felt melancholy. I felt like an old man after watching this, as if I had also spent a life of perfect consistency, doing everything in my power to obtain perfection in simplicity. Maybe it was the thought of man spending every day the exact same way that left me with a very weary feeling.

Comprehending what Jiro has achieved is damn near impossible. The time he took, the patience he needed to get to where he is, and the patience required since then until this very day to remain as good if not improve ever so slightly with each meal. These are things which I will never truly understand, and I am pretty sure that I could count the people who would understand on one hand. That’s just because very few people who have ever lived have spent their entire lives working at one thing and doing that thing every day, dedicating their lives to it, in search of perfection in that thing. It takes a very, very special kind of person to be capable of that.

Now let’s take a look at the flip side. Jiro has two sons, Yoshikazu and Takeshi. Both brothers trained under their father, but Takeshi, the younger brother, soon left to start another branch of his father’s restaurant. This is explained by referring to the Japanese tradition of having the eldest son take over the family business after his father’s passing. Thus, Yoshikazu stayed with Jiro and continues to study under him. During the film, we also get an idea of the seemingly insurmountable task that both Yoshikazu and Takeshi have before them. It would be no exaggeration to say that Jiro Ono is a national treasure for Japan. The amount of pressure that puts on Jiro’s two sons is huge. It is a problem that many people have, even people whose father’s have not won a 3-star rating from the Michelin Guide (here’s looking at you most of the world’s population, including myself). But surpassing your father is definitely a relatable thing for a son. Your dad is that person who sits up on a pedestal and you can’t ever reach that level. Many very, very successful people tell stories about reaching the peaks of their profession but still not getting that sense of satisfaction simply because they never got their dad’s approval. However, I’m sure that Yoshikazu and Takeshi will strive to reach their fathers heights and may actually get there. It should be noted that when the Michelin judges ate at Sukibayashi Jiro, the person who made their sushi was not Jiro, it was Yoshikazu.

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So, I think that’s all I have to say. It was a weary, mellow documentary about a long life of hard work culminating in great success. Things that I can not relate to all that much. Oh well.

Thanks for reading and have a great day.

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