Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

At the age of nine, Jiro Ono tells us, he was a bad kid, misbehaving at school, thrown out of his father's place and told "You have no home to come back to." To support himself, he worked. He found that he liked it. He decided to commit to a trade. To 17 hour days, to the same routine every day. His elder son tells us that he takes days off only on national holidays and then complains that they are too long. His younger son used to respond to seeing him in the family home by saying "Mummy, there's a strange man sleeping on the couch."

Jiro is now 85 years old and is widely considered to be the best sushi chef in the world.

The history of sushi making in Japan goes back at least 12 centuries. One of its most esteemed attributes is its simplicity. Jiro's success is built not on creating elaborate new dishes but on sourcing the best ingredients, preparing them in as perfect a manner as possible, and serving them with simple elegance. At 85, he feels that he is still learning, and that there will always be room for improvement. "I have visions of sushi in my sleep," he says. His simple work has food critics in thrall and a meal in his ten-seater restuarant, which must be booked a month in advance, starts at around £180.

To some viewers, all this will be a mystery. How can one slip of tuna on a bed of rice be all that different from another? There is some attempt at explanation here but it's a difficult task - for Jiro, what he does is an art, not something easily put into words. That's part of its magic. His trainees work for ten years just to master the basics. Unable to sample the food on display, one must take the words of the experts on faith, but the film's gentle poetry itself conjures up flavours in the imagination. If you are already a sushi-lover, make sure you have enough money with you to go out and feast after seeing this film. Wherever it screens, sushi bars can expect a boom in trade.

Jiro himself, patient, wry-humoured, humble, utterly in love with what he does, is a walking embodiment of traditional Japanese virtues, a consummate artist. Just by watching him going about his daily routines, by hearing his stories, we seem to get surprisingly close to the core of his character. There is no hint of the defensiveness or obfuscation one often sees in subjects like this. The film does not attempt to dazzle us with brilliance. Instead, it invites quiet awe at what dedication can achieve.

Reviewed on: 16 Dec 2012
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A documentary following the 85 year old master sushi chef, Jiro Ono
Amazon link

Director: David Gelb

Starring: Jiro Ono, Yoshikazu Ono

Year: 2011

Runtime: 80 minutes

Country: Japan, USA

Festivals:

Tribeca 2011
SSFF 2011

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