By Gregory Crofton
My sister recommended JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI. I started it, got through about 20 minutes, but I was too tired to watch a movie and shut it off. I revisited it last night and couldn’t get enough. There is cinema and a certain peace in this documentary, and not because of the beautiful shots of freshly cut tuna, but rather for the precise discipline at work behind the camera.
Jiro Ono is a sushi chef who revels in the repetition and endurance required to achieve his high standards. He is a taskmaster intent on constantly improving his sushi despite his age, 85. Hard-working apprentices who toil for years in his kitchen hang on because they feel privileged to work within his aura, learning from him. Ono is the only sushi chef awarded three Michelin Stars, the highest rating in the culinary world, and he’s been declared a national treasure by Japan.
Here’s a good example why Jiro’s sushi is the best in the world: At first he required that octopus be massaged by hand for 30 minutes before being served. But over the years of his work, he’s found that the extra effort to massage it for 40 to 50 minutes made it taste less like rubber and become more flavorful. Through this type of fanaticism Jiro made his small restaurant, situated inside a subway station, into a destination where seating is booked a month out and a meal costs around $300.
His two sons have followed him into the business. Ono trained both, one broke off and started his own restaurant, which is a mirror image of his father’s. The other waits patiently for his father to retire. So like all exceptional documentaries, JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI is multifaceted in that it also tells the story of a Japanese family, how a father and his sons find ways to love and respect each other.
Watching this documentary will return you to your work, whatever that maybe, with a renewed enthusiasm to do your best.
P.S. – David Gelb, director of JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI, has finished a new documentary that premiered at Tribeca Film Festival last month, A FASTER HORSE. It’s about the Ford Mustang sports car and the effort to redesign it approaching its 50th anniversary. Gelb is also behind a new six-episode documentary series on Netflix, CHEF’S TABLE.