Saturday, September 8, 2012

Ultimate Simplicity Leads to Purity: Jiro Dreams of Sushi

by Drew Martin
I just watched Jiro Dreams of Sushi, which is a wonderful documentary about Jiro Ono, a left-handed, master sushi chef in his 80s. His restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro,  has a Michelin 3-star rating (the highest recognition in the culinary world). Reservations are made a month in advance and customers pay more than $300 a plate, which makes it the most expensive restaurant in the world per minute for the patrons who might spend only 15 minutes there. The restaurant is in Tokyo (no surprise) but it is underground in a subway station corridor where you might typically find a shoe shine or magazine stand. It only has 10 seats and it does not have a restroom.

Jiro is a stickler. Apprentices are first taught to squeeze hot towels for the clients, then slice fish, and after ten years they are permitted to grill eggs. One young chef said he made hundreds for months, and all of them were rejected.

Jiro was independent since the age of nine. He says that kids whose parents tell them they are always welcome to come back home if the do not 'make it' will be failures. He recommends saying 'this will never be your home again' when they set out for the world.

The food critic Masuhiro Yamamoto sums up Jiro with the phrase "Ultimate simplicity leads to purity" and he says that Jiro has the five qualities of a great chef:

1. taking work seriously
2. aspiring to improve
3. cleanliness
4. leading instead of collaborating
5. passion

Although most of the film is shot in restaurant and at the fish market, this is not ultimately a foodie flick with a world-travel agenda. It is about being good at what you do. Jiro recommends immersing yourself in your work, falling in love with your work, mastering your skill and never complaining about what you do.

The style of the documentary is simple and well constructed. I like how the subtitles are positioned specific to the speaker. There are comparisons of Jiro's preparations to an orchestrated experience, so there is a sound track to match with music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Max Richter and Philip Glass.

The title, Jiro Dreams of Sushi comes from a moment in the film when Jiro speaks about how he actually dreams of making sushi in his sleep. Click here to watch the trailer.