"Jiro Dreams of Sushi" Will Make a Foodie Out of You

By Sean Burns
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 4 | Posted Mar. 29, 2012

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Jiro Ono’s sushi can cost up to $300.

Grade: B

Jiro’s sushi restaurant has only 10 seats. There are no restrooms on the premises, and for upward of $300 a meal, the proprietor will gaze impatiently upon you while handing out slices of raw fish for a dining experience that sometimes lasts a mere 15 minutes. And yet, Sukiyabashi Jiro has received three stars from the Michelin guide, and food critics such as Tokyo’s Yamamoto wax rhapsodic about Jiro Ono’s sushi as if it were the second coming. Reservations are generally booked one month in advance.    

David Gelb’s strangely engrossing documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi is foddie-ism at its most monastic. Profiling prickly 85-year-old master chef Jiro Ono, it’s mainly a film about the pursuit of perfection. The rigid, humorless and astoundingly disciplined Ono keeps a samurai warrior’s code in the kitchen. He generally works seven days a week, only begrudgingly taking time off for national holidays. As such, it doesn’t really matter that his restaurant has no takeaway menus or even any appetizers. Sushi is his life. He even dreams about it, in case the title didn’t tip you off to that already.    

I don’t even eat this stuff, and it’s still fascinating to watch the precision of a master at work. My pet theory as to the popularity of The Food Network extends to unrelated shows like American Chopper, or Extreme Couponing. It is just plain enjoyable to watch people do something that they are very good at. Even—or maybe especially if—it’s something you didn’t think you were remotely interested in.    

Jiro’s super-heroic dedication to his craft obviously didn’t allow much time for warm and fuzzy parenting. He’s got two sons (their mother is pointedly never mentioned), the eldest of whom has been groomed to eventually take over the restaurant, according to Japanese tradition. The younger was sent to open his own place across town, with a warning that if he failed there “would be no home to which you can return.” Jiro notes that both sons “were allowed to graduate high school” before following in the family business.    

Jiro Dreams of Sushi flirts with sadness in the margins. As much as we admire the subject’s skill and commitment to professionalism, is this really all there is to a life? For all the rigor and painstaking presentation, it’s important to remember that these are still just tiny morsels, destined to be shit out.  

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1. EG said... on Aug 28, 2012 at 01:13AM

“Mastery of skill should never be looked upon with sadness. Jiro Dreams of Sushi was amazing, and not sad at all. It was truly inspiring.”

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2. Anonymous said... on Nov 14, 2012 at 06:21PM

“Did you even watch the documentary all the way through? He was not humorless. Additionally, I think you miss the point - it's not about sushi. It's not about the food - the "tiny morsels, destined to be shit out" as you so "elequently" put it. It's about a man's craft and his drive to perfect his craft. It could easily have been a documentary about winemaking (y'know, the liquid stuff you drink and pee) or the making of a movie (where people get paid buttloads of cash to play at make believe and we are so gullible as to shell out buttloads of cash to watch people play at make believe) or the writing of an article for the internet (bunches of bits and bytes splashed on a page on some computer somewhere so everyone everywhere can see and then forget about it.) For a "journalist" you missed the point completely.”

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3. Joe S. said... on Dec 22, 2012 at 04:12PM

“You (the author of this article) are the very reason America has steadily declined in the past few decades. You clearly had no patience to truly watch the entire movie. Like most Americans, you feel insults veiled as humor is acceptable journalism. You sir, are wrong, ignorant, and without honor. If you had watched the movie, you would have the utmost respect for the life long pursuit of perfection displayed by this family... The guests paying $300 are bearing witness to, and showing gratitude for this.... not the fish you "shit out". This movie inspires many in all fields of endeavors, and shames the rest of the wastes of oxygen out there. I think we know which category you fall under.”

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4. Anonymous said... on Jan 2, 2013 at 02:46PM

“im sure his sadness is probably because he has regrets , but we all do.but im also sure all of us will love to have the kind of passion that he has. we can see that with this you can achieve your dreams. and his dream might be nothing for us. but its his life and that's his dream. not ours

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