Right from the second I saw the trailer for Jiro Dreams of Sushi, I knew it would be the sort of movie I enjoy. However, I avoided seeing it for a few weeks and not just because the only theater in town screening it had seats that feel like sitting on beanbag filled with pudding. I was scared, really, of how the movie would make me feel or more specifically, how nostalgic it would make me for Tokyo and all that glorious sushi I ate. I just knew that I was going to wake up in the parking lot of a Japanese restaurant face down in a pile of otoro, several hundred dollars lighter in a haze of sake and Asahi. My time living in Tokyo was nothing short of a life changing experience for me and just watching the trailer, I could see parts of the bustling metropolis that I recognized, streets I had walked by and I’m pretty sure that in one of the Tsukiji Market scenes, I could see the velvet rope outside Sushi Dai, where I lined up for hours to have sushi for breakfast…twice!
Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a documentary on Jiro Ono, the 85-year old master sushi chef at Sukiyabashi Jiro, which I believe is the only restaurant with three Michelin stars located in a subway station. Anthony Bourdain called the place “easily the best sushi experience of my life” when he filmed No Reservations there back in season 3.
There’s one thing on the menu, the omakase meal, which basically means you trust the chef to choose your courses for you according to what’s fresh that day. At about $300, it’s quite an expensive meal and unlike the marathon you’d experience at El Bulli, you’re probably done and expected to leave in under half an hour. That’s the way most in-demand sushi places are…eat quick to be courteous to those behind you in line.
The best sushi I’ve had so far in life were my meals at Sushi Dai and while that was spectacular in every way for me, I seriously doubt those guys are even half as dedicated to sushi as Jiro Ono. The movie goes through the incredibly comprehensive process and hard work that goes into everything served at Sukiyabashi Jiro. Everything from sitting over a flame, roasting seaweed by hand in a very particular way to the absolutely astonishing technique that goes into making the restaurant’s tamago or egg sushi. That’s something I really admire about the Japanese culture…that some people can dedicate themselves to their work in the absolute pursuit of perfection.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to eat at Jiro’s during my time in Japan. I put it off for awhile and by the time I went by to see if I could get a reservation, it was a busy time and it would’ve been two months before I could get one of the very few seats in the restaurant. I was scheduled to leave Japan before then. Had I known I would end up staying in Japan awhile longer, I would’ve put my name down immediately. Some people that I’ve talked to after seeing this movie think that $300 is simply too much for a sushi dinner. Personally, I agree but I’d still do it. For a once in a lifetime experience like this, $300 isn’t bad.
Just like some won’t understand why anyone would drop three bills on raw fish, Jiro Dreams of Sushi isn’t for everyone. In fact, I overheard a few people in the theater snickering, joking about the ridiculous attention to detail these men put into their craft. I get it…it’s hard for most people to wrap their heads around taking 10 years just to hold a knife properly, cook an eel or even the painstaking process of preparing something as seemingly simple as rice. It’s a radical departure from the restaurant model of many North American chains where every restaurant can cook a very wide variety of foods but nothing particularly well. The opposite is true in Japan. Many places make only one thing, have been making only that one thing for hundreds of years and you can be damn sure there are only a handful if any other places that could make that dish half as good.
Go ahead…ask a group of people in Japan where the best ramen is. It’s like asking which of iPhone or Android is better. You’ll start a holy war.
So while not everyone is going to understand, if you love sushi, Japan or both like I do, you are going to love this movie. It’s shot beautifully not only at the restaurant, capturing the everyday vibe of the world’s best sushi bar but in all the shot around Tokyo. You get the hustle of the fish market, the quiet efficiency of the metro system and the vibrant allure of the neon cityscape. I could feel it tug at my heartstrings every time there’s a shot of Jiro walking through the streets.
The sushi is captured in slow motion. I know that sounds silly but if there actual food pornography, this would be it. When the chef’s place each piece down in front of their customer, it writhes and shimmies on the dish, settling down from the pressure of the chef’s hands. You see the sheen of the tuna with all that delicious marbled fat in the otoro.
Instead of the bow-chicka-wow-wow, Jiro Dreams of Sushi is mostly scored with classical music which lends to the film’s rhythm. The pacing has it’s ebb and flow, sometimes moving quickly through the chaos and then slowing down during the quiet moments, all of which is beautifully reflected in the music. If Jiro’s food is considered art, the movie makes him out to be a maestro conducting an orchestra, making sure each morsel of food sings to it’s full potential.
I have nothing to be critical of in this movie but I understand that my relationship with Japan and with sushi makes me quite obviously biased. However, that shouldn’t take anything away from what is an astonishingly gorgeous documentary. This movie shows how beautiful food can be and the dedication that’s required to expose all the subtleties and flavors from otherwise simple ingredients of fish and rice. I highly recommend this if you have any interest in food, sushi or Japan.
Now someone hide all my credit cards before I talk to my travel agent…
Verdict: 9.0 out of 10.