Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Until last weekend I had never heard of the documentary film, Jiro Dreams of Sushi.  It has a weird title and I probably wouldn’t have investigated further had I come across the listing in our local theatre.  Happily, I have friends who are really tuned into the world of film and are not averse to the off-the-beaten-track variety.  My friend Lindsey, who probably loves food just as much as she loves photography (correct, Linds?) was extremely eager to see Jiro.  I love documentaries, so it was an easy sell. As it turns out, Jiro Dreams of Sushi might be one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen.  I’m wracking my brain here, trying to remember other beautiful films: Manufactured Landscapes, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Pina all jump to mind but as has been stated repeatedly on this blog, my memory is crap so I’m only remembering films that I either recently saw (Pina and Eternal Sunshine) or recently read about and remembered seeing (Manufactured Landscapes).  I’m sure I’ve seen films as equally beautiful as Jiro, but none spring to mind.  The three aforementioned ones are in the same galaxy, but I think it takes a special film to show about 5 dozen (stunning) shots of single pieces of nigiri and keep you interested.  In a nutshell, Jiro is an eighty-five-year-old sushi chef in Tokyo and is the owner and mastermind behind the only sushi restaurant in the world with the coveted 3-star Michelin star rating.  Even more remarkable is that his restaurant is absolutely tiny: it seats just 10 people along a bar, facing the counter where Jiro makes his sushi (and simultaneously studies each of his customers).  Jiro’s life is so different from my own that I was very captivated by his story and almost polar-opposite way of life.  This is a man who was abandoned by his parents at the age of 9 and had to find his own way in the world.  As far as I could gather he started working in sushi restaurants around this time and basically never looked back.  He has a wife (who you never see in the film and whom Jiro mentions maybe once) and two sons: one has started his own sushi restaurant; the other works under his father.  It is emphasized in the film that Jiro works every day except national holidays and unless there is a major family emergency.  He talks about how when his sons were toddlers they saw him so rarely they thought he was a stranger.  Jiro laughs as he recounts this story but I was horrified.  This is a work ethic on a whole new level: this is an obsession.  The film I think does a good job of telling the story of Jiro without being too biased. While he is lauded for being an absolute sushi genius, Jiro is simultaneously portrayed as a man who has a very singular vision: to reach perfection.  I came out of the film feeling sorry for his children, who weren’t allowed to go to college in order to become sushi apprentices; for his wife who we can only assume feels lonely while her husband and sons work 15-hour days; and for Jiro himself, whose singular fixation on combining rice and fish leaves little room for appreciating other things life might have to offer.  But then, (aside from how it affects his wife and children) how can I fault a man for pursuing his life’s passion with an intensity and zeal that few of us have experienced? Indeed, aren’t determined and obsessed people like Jiro the reason we have amazing things like iPhones, space travel, polio vaccines, and great literature? I woke up pondering the film, flip-flopping between feeling sorry for Jiro and jealously wishing that I loved something that much.  I highly recommend this film especially if you love sushi and beautiful photography/cinematography. I also loved it because the soundtrack is full of gorgeous classical music: the Tchaikovsky violin concerto; Unaccompanied Bach; Philip Glass.  See it if you can find it!  I doubt it will be in theatres much longer.

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One thought on “Jiro Dreams of Sushi

  1. Linds says:

    Correct! Anyone who loves food and photography needs to see this. It’s beautifully shot. And fascinating. And…you’ll dream of sushi. For reals. Great review, Freya!

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