Movies you might’ve missed
PHOTO COURTESY MAGNOLIA PICTURES
Title: Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011)
Directed: David Gelb
Accessible via: YouTube
Brief Synopsis: Revered sushi chef Jiro Ono strives for perfection in his work, while his eldest son, Yoshikazu, has trouble living up to his father's legacy.
Aggregate Scores: 7.9 IMDb 99% Rotten Tomatoes Ebert 3/4 Stars
Review: If you choose a job you love, according to the old adage, you will never work a day in your life. While many of us would roll our eyes at that notion, for 3-star Michelin award winning Chef Jiro Ono, it is his most basic philosophy. The title is no exaggeration: Jiro admits freely that he has "visions" of sushi, even after working 18-hour days in his 80s. His dedication pays off, not only in adoration from other chefs and critics, but by a fully booked restaurant, month-long waiting lists, and meals that start at 30,000 yen ($366 Canadian).
Jiro is a shokunin, a Japanese word meaning master artisan. It is a title of utmost respect and responsibility, and the venerated chef does not take it lightly. The documentary goes to great lengths to show the intensive labour involved in his process. He picks only the most perfect seafood, hand-massages his octopus for over 45 minutes, and seats his guests in order of gender and handedness. No detail is too small in his unfaltering demand for perfection.
What is most impressive about this film is how it looks beyond the incredible food and picks up on the fascinating family dynamics. In Japanese culture, it is customary for the son to follow in the footsteps of the father. But what happens when your father is the greatest at his craft? Perfection is not a goal, it is a requirement. Jiro's son Yoshikazu is incredibly talented in his own right. He has diligently worked under his father for over 30 years, but even he freely admits that if he produces the same quality sushi as Jiro, he will never be as successful. It is a sobering reality that obviously pains Yoshikazu. No matter how hard he tries, the spectre of his father will loom over him even after the restaurant is his. The documentarians portray this storyline better than most narrative films, and it makes this documentary so much more engaging.
We are incredibly lucky to live in a time when documentaries are more easily accessible than ever before, thanks to platforms like Netflix and YouTube. However, even against strong competition, Jiro towers above other food documentaries because it is able to capture a story instead of create one. There is nothing forced in this film, as the beautiful camerawork flows effortlessly from one scene to the next, much like Jiro's courses. If you have watched recent docs like Chef's Table, you will notice Jiro's and director David Gelb's stylistic influence immediately. Jiro has done for food what Planet Earth did for wildlife, and this makes it a can't-miss film.