Film: “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”

April 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

In the dark of Theater 2 at AMC Lowes on Third Avenue and 11th Street, a noisy buzz lingered. Fumbling zippers, creaking chairs and low laughter filled the lazy Friday afternoon air. Some in the audience were playing hooky from work. Others were starting their weekend early. Either way, this Tribeca Film Festival screening was a cinematic escape from the daily grind and a moment of peace before the weekend. The dull clamor continued.

Then came the haunting melodies of Philip Glass and a voice asking in Japanese “What defines deliciousness?” The noise began to die. By the time the camera zoomed into a piece of gleaming, nearly translucent fish deftly molded onto an oval-shaped mound of sushi, the audience was in silent awe. Not so much of the sushi itself but the man who carefully crafted it and gently placed it on the black square plate before them – Tokyo’s famed Jiro Ono.

Still from "Jiro Dreams of Sushi," taken from eater.com

David Gelb’s latest documentary, “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” follows the 85-year-old sushi master and the staff behind Sukiyabashi Jiro, his humble 10-seat restaurant with three Michelin stars. The restaurant has garnered this three-star rating for the past four years, yet the quiet, but tenacious chef shows no signs of letting up.

Throughout the documentary, Jiro rarely speaks. From overseeing his apprentices in Sukiyabashi Jiro’s tiny kitchen to making his morning commute, Jiro takes it all in a silent stride. Gelb gleans the story of this respected sushi master through interviews with those who know him best – his sons Yoshikazu and Takashi, fish and rice dealers, an old apprentice, now sushi master with three Michelin stars under his belt by the name of Mizutani and food critic Yamamoto. They all praise Jiro’s work ethic and passion for sushi, recalling his rise from being an orphaned nine year old working at restaurants and under harsh conditions just to survive to opening his own restaurant in post-WWII Japan to create sushi never before tasted, let alone imagined. They call him a “perfectionist.” Though there is no Japanese equivalent to the word, Jiro seems to embody the universal ideal. And upon hearing these things, Jiro simply blinks in response.

Outside of these doting admirers, the harshest critic is Jiro himself. When it comes to perfecting his art, Jiro perks up. At point, Jiro shares that he wishes he had the senses of taste and smell that renown French chef Joel Robuchon possesses. With those attributes, he explains, he could make even greater sushi. And, it is in these visions of perfected sushi that the rapt audience watched the stoic sushi master become undone.

“I would see ideas in dreams,” Jiro says to the camera in Japanese, “In dreams I would see grand visions of sushi.”

Catch more screenings of “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” slated for next week here or check out Jiro’s 2008 appearance on Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations.

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