Big in Japan – ★★★½
David Gelb’s documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi grants viewers 81 minutes with one of the world’s most well-regarded and skilled sushi masters – the 85-year-old Jiro Ono who owns the Michelin 3-Star restaurant “Sukiyabashi Jiro” in the Chūō ward of Tokyo.
Jiro’s restaurant holds only ten people and a basic dining experience there will set you back around €225 and should be booked months in advance despite its location in a nondescript metro station. There are no appetisers or desserts, just some of the greatest sushi in the world. It goes without saying that the film will be a joy for lovers of Japanese cuisine and culture, with a trip to the renowned singing salesmen of the Tsukiji fish market a fascinating insight into the quirky quality control and thought that must go into their collection of ingredients.
Gelb travelled to Japan with only a translator in tow, shooting the film himself on a Canon Digital SLR and Red One camera. He uses selective focus to hone in on the dishes highlights making them look gorgeous in every sense of the word. Even those who don’t “get” sushi (this reviewer included) will be taken aback at how darn delightful the food looks when shot in this way and soundtracked by Tchaikovsky.
But no matter how good the grub looks, a feature-length foreign-language documentary on food would still be a drain on the senses if it weren’t enhanced by a fantastic cast of characters. Here a heightened sense of drama takes hold as the audience learns more about the evolving working dynamics of the Ono family. The octogenarian Jiro has been perfecting his sushi for 75 years and his oldest son, the 50-year-old Yoshikazu, has been second-in-command for many of those recent years – presumably waiting for the day when he will finally be allowed to take the reins. Another son got itchy feet and set up his own mirror-image restuarant elsewhere in Tokyo. These brothers hint at how tough it must have been having Jiro the hardened perfectionist as a father, but there is no animosity present from his sons – simply respect.
The film has done the rounds at festivals and foreign on-demand services for close to eighteen months so it’s a relief to finally see it hit screens at Dublin’s IFI and Lighthouse Cinema. Of course it’s popularity abroad suggests that a lot of hardcore sushi fans will have sought out the film online, but the film looks amazing and really deserves to be seen on the big screen. It’s a must-see for food-lovers, but there’s still plenty to savour for those of us who don’t know our Nigirizushi from our Futomaki.
USA / Directed By: David Gelb / 81min / Documentary / Release: 11 January 2013 (UK/Irl), March 2nd 2012 (US)