Jiro Dreams of Sushi is more than a restaurant documentary or a foodie film. Yes, it’s about the 85-year-old sushi chef Jiro Ono and his three-Michelin star sushi-only restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro, in Tokyo. Yes, the restaurant is the most expensive in the world. It holds only ten patrons and takes reservations a year in advance. The $370 meal consists of twenty pieces of sushi and lasts only about 15-20 minutes.
In Jiro Dreams of Sushi, director David Gelb explores what makes Jiro’s sushi so special. It’s the fact that Jiro is a perfectionist, who spends most waking hours throughout his life perfecting his craft. The sushi is simple, and in its simplicity, pure, the very essence of what sushi should be. We see various techniques Jiro employs and in which he trains his sons and staff. His eldest son will take over his restaurant when Jiro passes, and as we learn in the movie, the son must surpass the father in order to win over the father’s former fans. His other son owns another sushi restaurant. As we watch, we respect the dedication and ingenuity that goes into the process.
It was interesting to see the fish market and how fish is purchased. I saw a show recently, showing the economic devastation at such markets in Japan now, since the tsunami. There is no longer the hustle and bustle, and the largest of such markets is making only 20% of its former profits.
Jiro’s dedication and perfectionism are the central theme of the movie. It is the classic conflict of man against himself. Jiro says he is constantly learning. Abandoned by his parents by age seven, Jiro made his way in the world alone, perhaps fueling his drive to succeed, as he had no one to rely on. As we watch him visiting old friends or supervising at work, he either has a grin or a stoic face, coming off as a cross between cute old man and wry hard-ass. His life is celebrated because he created something that has become a work of art, that speaks not just to Japanese culture, but that appeals to the essence of humanity. We all long to find our place in life, to find that thing that we are good at, to pour our hearts into, striving to be the best we can be. Jiro is happy. He’s happy with the sushi empire he has built, and we share in his glory. His words of wisdom are universal. He reminisces of a different time, yet his feelings speak to the young who may be lost in these economic times without a future in sight. Through sushi, Jiro found his calling, and through Jiro Dreams of Sushi, we find a message of hope, that through adversity, and with determination, we can achieve our own personal greatness.