Written by Kirk BairdPerhaps the greatest compliment one can offer the enchanting documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi is that one needn’t be a sushi aficionado to appreciate it. Directed by David Gelb in his first documentary film, Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a lovely appreciation of an 85-year-old artist named Jiro Ono who has devoted his life to the culinary art of sushi.
Jiro owns a small Tokyo restaurant that serves a sushi-of-the-day menu in a nondescript location near a subway. There are no bathrooms in Sukiyabashi Jiro. It seats only 10 customers at a time, who will pay roughly $300 in U.S. currency, minimum. And yet there is at least a month-long waiting list for either lunch or dinner in Sukiyabashi Jiro, which was awarded a highly coveted 3-star rating in Michelin Guide. Customers flock worldwide for the opportunity to taste what one Japanese food critic proclaims as the best sushi in the world.
Waiting in the wings to take over the restaurant is Jiro’s oldest son, Yoshikazu, while the younger son, Takashi, left and opened his own sushi restaurant, the literal mirror image of Sukiyabashi Jiro, with his father’s blessings. Jiro Dreams of Sushi explores Jiro’s abandonment by his parents as a young boy, and how much of his life is informed by this. Yet he was an absentee father to his own sons—a necessary requirement, he suggests, to achieve his artistic purpose of culinary perfection—and would leave for work daily at 5 a.m. and return home by 10 p.m. His being home while his children were awake was such a rarity that on one particular Sunday as Jiro slept in, one of his sons remarked to his mother, who is this stranger sleeping on the couch?
But there are no lingering bad feelings from Jiro’s sons, who were pushed, they insist, out of love. It’s also apparent that Jiro directed them to take up the family cause as a method of father-son bonding, as well as the opportunity to spend considerably more time together.
Gelb blends the family dynamics well in this extraordinary documentary, along with some gorgeous shots of the preparation of the food itself. This isn’t a film just for sushi fanatics and foodies. This is a documentary with much to say about art itself, and the sacrifices it demands of those who aspire to greatness.