JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI — ….as, indeed, so many of us do. But Jiro’s dreams will touch many of us deeply who do not dream of crustaceans and finny friends of the deep finding their way to our palate’s and brain’s nerve centers.
This is an umami of a documentary.
Filmed in Tokyo, the city most populous with sushi provenders, restaurants and bars, this is the story of 85-year-old Jiro who, after 70 years as a sushi purveyor, still awakens many nights from a dream of sushi with an idea for his restaurant: a ten seat sushi bar that has repeatedly been granted three Michelin stars.
Jiro’s sushi bar does not serve drinks or appetizers or entrees—only sushi, which, for him, should be no aftermath and for which there can be no prelude. Giving his ten customers the same attention that he gives to his sushi, if he notices a person at the bar who is left-handed, that is where Jiro will place that customer’s next sushi—by his left hand.
His tasting menu, which varies each day according to what’s fresh and best at each day’s market, is like a three-part concerto: an ebb and flow of light and heavy fish (some cooked, some raw) the catch of the day and what’s seasonal. The final course, a cleansing egg sushi, alone took an apprentice two years to learn how to make at the feet (or hands) of Jiro. His two sons, bearers of his legacy, have received the hardest apprenticeship of all so that one day they can have their own sushi bars.
If you are a sushi maven this film will make you want to immediately go out and get sushi (the very best at hand). The images are aesthetically and appetizingly ravishing. But the film is more: It is also about learning a task and making a life; about the meaning of dedication and the never-ending scale of improvement; of working 75 years and trying to be better every day yet never attaining the pinnacle of perfection which lies ever ahead. It is about family and hardship and the difference among generations; about kids then and kids now; about work that is motivated by pride and accomplishment rather than money and time off. It is about posterity and conservation as opposed to short-term greed, about fish stock depletions in an age of the ubiquity of sushi—conveyer belt and supermarket and do-it-yourself sushi—where global net fishing and bottom trawlers indiscriminately take young fish along with the mature. A tuna takes ten years to grow to its100 kilogram maturity. Learning to make sushi takes a lifetime.
This film is both a lesson in life and in making a life; it is an exemplum, a cautionary tale and, above all, it is a joy.