Jiro Dreams of Sushi
Directed by David Gelb. Featuring Jiro Ono, Yoshikazu Ono, Takeshi Ono PG cert, IFI/Light House, Dublin, 81 mins
Tokyo can claim more Michelin stars than Paris, a boast that owes much to the mad skills required for sushi-making. In a competitive city market, a quaint, 10-seater sushi bar located under a subway station is still the pony to beat.
Jiro Ono, the owner and head sushi-chef of Sukiyabashi Jiro, is considered to be the greatest sushi shokunin in the world. His tiny restaurant can require a booking to be made years in advance. It’s the only eatery under a railway arch to have garnered three Michelin stars.
David Gelb’s fascinating documentary portrait of the man and his food traces the outline of a potentially Shakespearean dilemma: the 85-year-old master who won’t retire, the younger son who has set up his own sushi restaurant, and the eldest son who waits patiently to take over at the family business. But this is Jiro Ono’s kitchen, and in Jiro Ono’s kitchen trainees can expect to spend a year handling the hot towels before they’re allowed to grill an egg.
And so it goes with Gelb’s film, a work that feels as patient and detailed as the small pieces of raw fish at the heart of the story. No film since perhaps Russian Ark can boast such a happy marriage between form and content. The pace, too, is lovely and measured, like one of Ozu’s late, ceremonially framed family dramas.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi expands out beyond the Ono family to present an entire parade of master craftsmen and artisans: the guy who chooses the tuna, the stall where the family pick up their rice. The clan’s intergenerational frictions ultimately seem to disappear into their overwhelming desire to perfect their art. Everybody works silently and calmly, as if toward a visual antidote to Kitchen Confidential.
There’s more to Gelb’s mostly straight-on shot chronicle than just gastro porn. But it’s hard to top the rhythmic sound against the chopping board as a hook.