Film Reviews

"Jiro Dreams of Sushi" Follows a Master at Work

Tucked away in the basement of a Tokyo office building, in a drab corridor attached to a subway station, the restaurant Sukiyabashi Jiro seats only a handful, boasts three Michelin stars, and is presided over by renowned 85-year-old sushi chef Jiro Ono.

For hundreds of dollars apiece, you can get a taste of the craft he has been tirelessly honing since age 10. This is, of course, a calculus apt to explode the mind of even the most casual gourmand, and the foodie set is well taken care of in director David Gelb's portrait, which includes the effusions of a Japanese food critic, dutifully nods to the overfishing problem, and presents, with no small amount of pomp, the outlandishly photogenic omakase. Happily, the main focus is on the labor, not just its fruits. Gelb documents many of Jiro's unorthodox methods in the kitchen — no family secrets here; just processes so cost-inefficient that few would dare to replicate them.

Significant screen time goes as well to Jiro's relationship with his sons: Yoshikazu, the oldest, is in line to take the reins at his father's original glorified-supply-room location, while the younger Takashi has opened a separate (apparently more laid-back) branch in Roppongi Hills. The best scenes, though, are windows onto the other professional associations the exacting but far from humorless shokunin has cultivated over the years — with "antiestablishment" fish and rice dealers and with his kitchen staff, whose grueling apprenticeship begins with the painful preparation of hot towels.

Gelb might flit around a bit too much, but his appealing documentary always comes back to its subject's determination to leave the most meaningful possible legacy to his family and his craft.

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Benjamin Mercer