Last year, the non-fiction films Bobby Fischer Against the World and Senna both recognized that obsessive repetition is often the common thread amongst those we label as geniuses. This crucial concept lies at the heart of David Gelb's Jiro Dreams of Sushi, a portrait of shokunin Jiro Ono, a man whose entire life has been given without limits to the betterment of his craft.
Ono practices his magic at Sukiyabashi Jiro, a small, 10-seat eatery snugly nestled in the corner of Tokyo's underground rail station. Belying the unexceptional location, the restaurant is the only sushi-based dining establishment in the world to have received a three-star Michelin rating, an honor extended to Jiro and his staff for five years running now. Fundamentally, Jiro Dreams of Sushi is an introduction to the world's greatest sushi chef, for those not already in the know.
The film emphasizes the focused repetition that drives Jiro's art. There's nary an interview subject in the piece who doesn't marvel at the chef's unyielding pursuit of perfection. Gelb uses food writer Masuhiro Yamamoto's extensive knowledge of and gushing enthusiasm for Jiro's work as an entry point into the intimate spaces of Sukiyabashi Jiro's kitchen and dining area.
From there, we meet Jiro's eldest son, Yoshikazu, who is expected to take over the reigns when Jiro finally steps down; a monumental task in the face of his father's legacy. As a veteran of Jiro's kitchen puts it, Yoshikazu will have to "make sushi twice as good as his father" to be seen as his equal, such is the esteem with which Jiro is held in the culinary world.
Everything about Jiro's philosophy is bent towards continual improvement. We're told that he asks that his apprentices make a ten year commitment, though only the truly dedicated survive long in his kitchen. Gelb's camera ventures outside the confines of the restaurant to meet the fish and rice vendors who supply Jiro with the quality of ingredients he demands.
Each vendor comes off as idiosyncratic and detail-oriented as Jiro himself; there's an entertaining discussion between a rice merchant and Jiro about who deserves (and is capable of cooking) the variety of rice he sells. The trip is a revelation, pointing to the collaboration that makes Jiro's work possible, something that Jiro himself broaches later in the film when discussing the support he receives from his staff.
There's an expectation that cinema tied to food will inspire hunger. Jiro Dreams of Sushi certainly fulfills that assumption while being surprisingly emotionally substantial as well. Gelb presents Jiro as a man with self-denying commitment to his passion. And his passion is contagious.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi opens at the Hollywood Theatre and Living Room Theaters on Friday, March 23rd.
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