I think if everyone had at least half of the dedication and understanding of Jiro Ono, the world would be a lot better off. Mastering the art of preparing sushi since around the age of 10, Jiro has built himself quite a reputation. If you want to eat as his restaurant, you have to make a reservation a month in advance and be prepared to pay – at minimum – $300 per person. I might agree that the price is a little steep, but after watching Jiro Dreams of Sushi, I might also one day find myself forking over whatever the going rate is to see what 75 years of single-minded focus tastes like.
The documentary focuses on Jiro and his restaurant, where he apprentices several people including his sons. His eldest, Yoshikazu, stands to run the restaurant when Jiro retires. When I first started watching this, I found it a little creepy that Jiro just stands there and stares at you while you eat his food. But after getting to know him and his philosophy a little better, I’ve come to understand that he’s just a very matter-of-fact kind of guy. He made this sushi for you. Eat it.
After all, over the past several decades, Jiro has figured out the exact right temperature to serve sushi at. He doesn’t screw around with appetizers or any of that crap, either – just sushi. Watching him and his sons craft what can only be the world’s most perfect anago seems worth the insane price of admission. It’s not mentioned in the film, but I’m pretty sure people without the funds to dine at his establishment either sell their elderly relatives or whore themselves out for months at a time. I’m fine with one of those scenarios, but I won’t tell you which one.
The film delves a little bit into the process, as it follows Yoshikazu at the fish market, buying only the best ingredients. If the food is $300 in the restaurant, I can only imagine what they’re paying at the vendors. There are also sections here and there that dig into Jiro’s life, and they’re equally as interesting as anything else. At one point, Jiro admits he wasn’t as good a father as he could have been, but I guess he’s okay with that. His sons seem to have enormous respect for him, and they have no problem continuing the family business, so maybe he’s just being a little too hard on himself. I can see his dedication getting in the way of his family, but if it means I get to eat perfection at least once, then he can go ahead and ignore as many children in their pivotal bonding years as he sees fit.
As for Jiro himself, for all his talk of hard work and focusing your life on a single task, he comes off as a sweet, old man. All joking aside, the family dynamics don’t look broken to me at all. All that time in the kitchen together probably makes up for the formative years when he worked too much. On the narrative side of things, this kind of insight elevates the portrait to something above and beyond what it could have been. It not only shows what it’s like behind the scenes of a restaurant people literally travel to Japan just to eat at, but it also humanizes – in a very sympathetic way – someone considered a legend in his field
Jiro Dreams of Sushi is just like its subject matter; it’s very single-minded. So, if you’re not that into sushi, Japanese culture, or 85-year-old men talking about putting more pressure on the rice than his competitors, this is probably going to be one giant snooze-fest for you. That’s too bad, but it is what it is. For the rest of you who are interested in this sort of thing, it’s a fascinating look at perhaps one of the last true masters of this particular art. I can’t imagine anyone of the mind to watch this coming away anything less than satisfied.