Master and Apprentices
I never am quite the foodie, and never cared too much about Michelin Guide rated restaurants around the world. But Jiro Dreams of Sushi has made me think twice, that in my lifetime I just might afford that 30000 Yen meal prepared by one of the best, if not THE best sushi master around, and his team comprising of his eldest son and apprentices who relentlessly work at perfecting and continuously improving upon their skills and gastronomical offering in the humble looking food blessed with delicious flavours. And there's not much of a secret to their success, other than using nothing but the finest and freshest of ingredients, backed by an uncompromising philosophy of hard work and consistency.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi is like a biographical film, and more. It chronicles the humble beginnings of chef Jiro Ono, recognized as a national treasure in Japan for his bringing of honor to Japanese cuisine, and peers into his professional work ethics that defines a perfectionist. And these lessons learnt apply to more than just sushi preparation and presentation, but are sound lessons not only about wanting to do well, but to excel in what one does. It boils down to pride in one's work, and reminds of how one should be chasing excellence and not success, since the latter is something that will automatically follow once the former is achieved.
And success is something that Jiro's Sukiyabashi Jiro restaurant in Ginza, Tokyo has garnered with its Michelin Guide Three Stars rating, but the chef is hardly stopping at being satisfied with that. There are plenty of interview segments that has the master providing anecdotes that nullifies the usually stern looking demeanour he has when wanting to do the best for his diners. With only ten seats in his shop, it's little wonder about the attention that's being paid to the idiosyncrasies of each diner, with little unsaid touches that make the experience unique and unforgettable, though some may say it's kinda stressful to be eating there.
But make no mistake, the experience is something one should be looking at, and David Gelb's film is like a walking menu of some of the best on offer at the restaurant. The cinematography here is simply astounding and beautiful, adding a dimension to the individual, intricately prepared sushi pieces up close, that you can almost smell and taste what it may have smelled and tasted like. And that's not all, with Gelb being very conscious at painting a very romantic, rhythmic pace for the restaurant interior, and the chefs and apprentices in slow motion was pure poetry, akin to the need to slow down when dining at Sukiyabashi Jiro in order to savour the food, and to take in the experience completely. Watching the film on an empty stomach, is like playing with fire and seeking to be gastronomically tempted. Like the sushi on display, this film is kept simple in presentation, yet powerful in its narrative, stuffed with juicy episodes and anecdotes, yet minimalist in covering its key components in under 90 minutes.
To balance what would be talking heads, Gelb's documentary ventures out to catch glimpses of Jiro Ono outside of the restaurant in his rare days off, with celebration and recognition of those who had made him successful. The almost still shot of his entire team flanking him, brought nothing less than the majestic, clockwork effort everyone chips in, with screen time also devoted to key suppliers (and reason enough to venture into the auctions at the famed Tsukiji Fish Market), whom Jiro has to trust to make decisions on purchasing, pricing, stocking and delivering nothing but the best, from the fish, right down to the rice. Experts in their own field, you cannot help but to feel a sense of professional politeness amongst their interaction, and think it's a Japanese thing, but it's true that one should not forget those who had helped in any way in one's ascension to success. Yet another lesson learnt with some subtlety.
The best though, came out of the blue. Jiro Dreams of Sushi is really an exercise into continuity, and the leaving behind of a legacy with the hopes in an Asian context that one's descendants continue with the good work and goodwill already established, to see something so painstakingly created, and sustained, having a life of its own. Gelb's film dedicates a good portion of the film to Jiro Ono's two sons, one who's running the branch at Roppongi Hills (and a Michelin Guide Two Stars, no less), and the elder one at the Ginza outlet, according to tradition, who will inherit the main venue when the inevitable happens. Talk about pressure, and the long shadow that would be cast for one to try and get out of. And there's a surprise installed that provided something of a sucker punch, that affirms Sukiyabashi Jiro, is under fine hands indeed.
It takes more than a decade to learn the ropes, and many more years of hard work and dedication, which to Jiro Ono is a never ending journey of improvement, to become a sushi master, and Gelb's film masterfully captures key aspects of this profession of dedication, with lessons in life never sounding preachy at any point. With good food and well placed humour, Jiro Dreams of Sushi more than deserves a five star film rating, and is definitely one of the best I've seen this year. Now to put some money aside so that the next trip to Tokyo can bring me either to the Roppongi or Ginza outlets.