Film review – Jiro Dreams of Sushi

The Jiro in question is Jiro Ono, the 85-year-old owner and sushi chef at Sukiyabashi Jiro, a tiny three-Michelin-star restaurant he owns in the basement area of a Tokyo building.

At my first attempt to get into the ICA to see this film, I found that, unusually, both screenings that day were sold out. The queue of Japanese people waiting outside the screen hinted that there was more to the reputation of this pensioner than met the eye.

The man is an unrepentant perfectionist and fascinatingly so, rarely taking a day off work, even for the award ceremony of his Michelin stars (he returned to the restaurant the same evening). He watches the work of his underlings, including his son, with inscrutable eyes, pointing out faults and discussing the minutiae of preparation that has made his simple approach to sushi so successful.

It’s an interesting portrait of the levels of obsession necessary to truly be a master of your craft as time and time again throughout the film (perhaps a little too much), portions of succulent sushi are served up on the obsidian platters placed before the ten seats of the bar. Yes, ten seats, that’s the extent of the restaurant.

What lifts the documentary out of the all too frequent shots of sushi servings is the focus on Ono’s obsessive nature to perfect sushi and the effect it has on his relationship with his sons. Both have trained under him, but there is a sense of resigned tension as the old fella refuses to retire. How to step out of your father’s shadow in a country that traditionally expects sons to follow fathers is a recurring subject, with some amusement.

For most people, sushi is an instant lunch pack of dry rice and tasteless fish from a supermarket chiller cabinet. After seeing the juicy, nay, still-quivering fleshy delights from Jiro’s kitchen, you’ll never want to touch the packaged stuff again.

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