Jiro Dreams of Sushi is as elegant and tasty as the splendid sushi prepared by the man in the title, and that is saying a lot.
Octogenarian Jiro Ono, proprietor of Tokyo's Sukiyabashi Jiro, just might be the best sushi chef on the planet. He was the first sushi wizard to earn three Michelin stars, and his restaurant looks to be the only such awardee that has just 10 seats in a subway station arcade.
Director David Gelb, a sushi lover since childhood, came up with the idea of making a film about the best chef around. He consulted with food critic Masuhiro Yamamoto, who unequivocally votes Sukiyabashi Jiro as the best.
It serves sushi and only sushi, and despite prices that start at roughly $300 per visit, reservations must be made at least a month in advance. And because the chef discourages chitchat, you can be in and out within 15 minutes.
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Several people, including Yamamoto, talk about being nervous when they eat at Sukiyabashi Jiro because of the high standards of the man himself, and Ono, ramrod straight despite being 85 when the movie was filmed, certainly presents himself with the severity of an unbending Buddhist monk.
But Gelb, who shot the master over two years, clearly developed a rapport with Ono. As the film progresses, we get insights into his past, professional status and personal life, as much as he has one. Forced out of his home when he was 9, working with sushi since he was 10, Ono is as strict with himself as he is with everyone else. A passionate perfectionist who believes "you must dedicate yourself to mastering your skill," Ono, as the title indicates, literally dreams about sushi, waking up and creating new dishes.
Meticulous preparation and high standards make his sushi so good. Fanatical about the smallest details, he makes his associates hand-massage octopus for 45 minutes before it is considered ready to serve.
Ono is particularly hard on his sons, who have apprenticed with him. Oldest son Yoshikazu, destined by Japanese tradition to take over from his father, probably expected the master chef to retire years ago. He patiently works by Ono's side while his younger brother gets to open a place of his own.
Even if you don't fancy raw fish, Jiro is captivating. The uncredited cinematography, probably by Gelb, makes each piece of sushi gleam like a tiny work of art, and editor Brandon Driscoll-Luttringer does an expert job of cutting the footage to classical music, often Philip Glass's works. You might not dream of sushi, but why Jiro Ono does becomes perfectly clear.