I've been wanting to see 'Jiro Dreams of Sushi' for ages, ever since I saw it advertised at the Japanese film festival in Sydney. It's an American documentary, directed by David Gelb who also did the cinematography, about a supremely talented sushi chef who is notorious for his attention to detail and strict work ethic. Whilst Jiro's story was engrossing and his techniques incredible to watch, the craftsmanship of Jiro's story into this beautiful documentary is what impressed me the most.
It's a very rare thing to watch a documentary on Japan by a foreign filmmaker and feel like the documenter has gotten to the heart of something within Japanese culture in an accurate manner. I've seen a lot of documentaries which either hype an element of Japanase culture up a lot to seem 'quirky' or 'exotic' or use a negative phenomena within Japanese society to demonise the culture as a whole without really addressing the universal human causes behind it. 'Jiro dreams of sushi' however is successful in sympathetically depicting one man's lifestyle and views on work, family, success and legacy without hyping them up to be something related to wider Japanese culture. In my opnion, this conversely enables them to touch at something deeper within the Japanese way of thinking more accurately and honestly.
Apparently Gelb was originally going to make a film about various sushi chefs all over Japan in general but upon meeting Jiro and his two sons (who were taught the art of sushi making form their father) decided that the story of Jiro's pursuit of perfection and his son Yoshikazu who lives in his shadow was enough to grab audiences' attention. I'm so glad that he did and I think he was absolutely right, becuase the story of Jiro and his sons is an incredible yet easily overlook-able tale of success, perseverance and legacy.
What really pulls this story together however, isn't just the mouthwatering sushi but the way that this tale has been crafted by the filmmakers. There is no narration in this film, it is all told from the mouths of the chefs and foodies who eat there and moreover shown through the camera lens. I think a great documentary lets you know the right information at the right time, not all at once and not anything that isn't necessary tot he overall arc of the tale. In that sense this documentary feels as perfected as the tamagoyaki (omelette) served at Jiro's restaurant which is made by apprentices who must first train there in omelete making for at least ten years. One vital piece of unheard information about Jiro's three michelin stars which is revealed only at the end struck me just at the right place at the right time and subsequently stuck with me for days after my viewing.
My personal favourite pieces of beautiful documentary cinematography and editing include the slowmotion seafood preparation scenes, the montage fading between different pieces of sushi being placed down with a symphony playing in the background as a food critic describes how Jiro's set menu is conducted like an orchestra and the last shot of Jiro smiling- as if to show that he is both simply an old man sitting on a train and a legend.
I've read quite a lot of negative things surrounding Jiro's restaurant since watching the film, however after watching it, it would be hard to deny that he is a man who has dedicated his life to the art of sushi. Whatever you think of Jiro this film is definitely worth a watch for it's beautiful simplicity which accurately mirrors a Japanese way of thought, both in style and through it's delicate portrayal of Jiro's views on life.