Recapped!: “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”

Many types of sushi ready to eat.
Many types of sushi ready to eat. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“He’s not trying to be special.”

words: desmond “neo” childs

The definition of sushi, according to Webster’s online dictionary is as follows:

…cold rice dressed with vinegar, formed into any of various shapes, and garnished especially with bits of raw seafood or vegetables.” 

 Trying to define what it means to be great isn’t nearly as cut-in-dry. According to many, being great takes time. You’ll strive for years to hone your craft. Whether it’s sports, music, writing, dancing, or cooking; becoming the best is something that has to be earned. So says the general public, right? I mean, one can only ride talent for so long without improving a bit everyday. I’m even practicing my craft (writing) everyday, whether it’s working on this blog; writing stories, essays, etc. Those who strive to be exceptional in their choosen craft, must be willing to work tirelessly. To sum up my point here, Jiro Ono, the subject of this film; is great. He’s unassuming, straight-faced, and impatient. He’s a perfectionist, even at 85 years young, who demands a great deal out of his apprentices.

Why is Jiro considered grea? Because of his sushi restauraunt. A 15-seated, modest setup that doesn’t even have it’s own restroom facilities (patrons have to use a nearby outdoor facility). On top of that, the restauraunt that Jiro runs only serves sushi. Nothing else. And really, really expensive sushi. I’m talking the lowest prices run you about 30,000 yen (about $300)! Crazy, right? Yet, Jiro’s sushi joint has garnered many positive reviews. The highly prestiged, Michelin Red Guide gave Sukiyabashi Jiro (name of the restauraunt) a 3-star rating.; which is the highest possible rating for restauraunt and hotels featured in the guide. So Jiro Ono is officially a great sushi chef. However, the truly great ones of any particular occupation; tend to have a ‘secret’ weapon in their arsenal. Jiro Ono’s secret to success, may just astound us all. Which brings us to this question, “What’s Jiro Ono’s secret weapon?”.

Directed By: David Gelb

David Gelb attends the "Jiro Dreams Of Sushi" panel discussion at the Japan Society on March 5, 2012 in New York City.

David Gelb is a working-class director. I don’t want anyone to take that as a derrogatory statement, though; because I mean it as a compliment. The guy doesn’t have a huge catalogue of projects, but what he has produced is solid, even and of good quality. His first directorial debut wasn’t just that. He also co-wrote and starred in, Lethargy (2002), the short which also included Robert Downey Jr. and Edward Burns. While Jiro Dreams Of Sushi (2011) is his most recent work, Gelb has another documentary, A Vision of Blindness (2008), to his credit. He’s also won an award for the film, Lethargy, which he co-directed with Joshua Safdie.

Alright, so the bottomline is this. Jiro Dreams Of Sushi is a film about turning your typical, blase’ cusine into something truly worth traveling the world for. And many critics and patrons alike quite literally have to travel the world to partake in this guy’s sushi. And it’s because it’s that good! So good, that reservations must be made an entire month in advance. The movie is chaulk-full of facts regarding the prestige and oddity of Jiro and his crew; the price of sushi, as well as the hard work that goes into maintaining it all.

I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to the other documentary I really enjoyed about inventor, Dr. Nakamats (click here). However, there was one notable difference between the two films I want to point out. The downside to being either a genuis inventor or master chef seems to be that both were incredibly demanding of their peers and family. However, Dr. Nakamats’ film did a better job of showing the negative side of working with such a person. Jiro Ono is called, “impatient” and “demanding”, but the movie never really attempts to frame the character in a negative light. This could be a problem for us cynical types who see the good in things, but harp on the bad!

As a counter to my own criticism, I’ll say this. Jiro Ono may have been a difficult man in his own right. However, his attitude toward his two sons was no where near as polarizing as Nakamats’ was. Jiro cares for his two sons deeply. He also seems to have developed a philosophy on raising them, based on his own childhood. Jiro’s parents were not present in his life the way they should have been, so Jiro grew up being a bully. He had to work hard himself, and focused on being consistent. Jiro knew this approach would keep him grounded in the traditional way, but also allowed him to crave his own style and niche.

“The dish is 95% complete when it arrives at my table…”

He gives both his sons the chance to be great as well. His oldest son, already 50 years old, in this film, has been primed for taken on the mantle from his father when the time comes. Jiro, understanding that his youngest son couldn’t inherit his original restaraunt; encourages him to open a second store in Rappongi. The result is that Jiro’s youngest son is awarded 2-stars by Michelin and his eldest son was actually the one responsible for the first initial award of 3-stars for the original location. With these events unfolding, Jiro’s dream of making great sushi, along with his legacy will live on through his two sons. Also, like a true legend, Jiro Ono doesn’t forget to give his apprentices their praise saying that he is in the luckiest position on his staff. As the subtitle of this paragraph indicates, the staff around Jiro make the vast majority of preparations to ensure the quality of the cuisine. So in the end, the staff is responsible for the eatery’s fame and prestige. Jiro does however take credit for teaching them everything they know. And he’s right. It takes an apprentice 10 years before they’ve learned everything they need to know to be great. A decade. So, what is it, you do well?

As usual, the film is available on Netflix Instant watch, however long that ends up being. In the meantime, check out the trailer below:

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