You don’t have to like sushi to like the documentary Jiro Dreams Of Sushi. I don’t but I loved this documentary centered on the world’s greatest chef for the Japanese delicacy.
Jiro Ono is an 85 year old Sushi chef who has devoted nearly his entire life to his vocation of preparing sushi. Rather than reach a certain level of proficiency and stop, Jiro has pushed himself to continue to hone his craft, always looking for a new and better technique, a new type of sushi he could create. The end result has been that Jiro has a reputation as the premier sushi chef in the world and a three star rating from the Michelin Guide which, as a Tokyo restaurant critic tells us, is enough to inspire people to travel to Japan from around the world just to eat at Jiro’s restaurant.
Although entirely in Japanese with English subtitles, director David Gelb’s film effortlessly takes us into the world of Jiro’s restaurant, where we meet not only the chef himself but his staff as well. And as we watch them work together, we see that although Jiro has two sons of his own one of whom works in the restaurant, the group is its own kind of family, all dedicated to one purpose.
And for all the accolades he has received, there is a modesty about Jiro that is appealing. He downplays his own role in the preparation process saying that ninety-five per cent of the work is done by the staff who work back in the kitchen. This is backed up by his son who points out that the times that the Michelin Guide people came to the restaurant it was he and not his father who had prepared their food.
Underneath Jiro’s story lie two ominous things that mark how the world is changing around the chef. The work ethic that drove Jiro’s life is become rarer in successive generations. It is noted that it has become harder in more recent years to find apprentices who are willing to put in the years needed to learn the craft of preparing sushi. Another change, and one that is even more impactful on his business is the dangers that over-fishing is starting to pose. As sushi has become more popular it has led to a higher demand for fish which has depleted the amount of quality stock available for fishermen to harvest.