Written by Matt Giles
Edited by Erin Accomando
Jiro Ono is an 85-year-old world-renowned sushi chef who, despite his age and experience with preparing sushi, is still looking to perfect his craft. Reservations for his restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro, have to be made a month, sometimes a year in advance. As we’re told in the film by a Japanese food critic, the meal might be very quick but well worth the wait to be able to sit in Jiro’s restaurant. This documentary by David Gelb chronicles the day-in and day-out life of Jiro, illustrating what kind of man he is and how he got to be the sushi chef he’s become. The answer is simple really, as Jiro tells us: “You have to love what you do.”
That principle is a large part of why this film is so good. For anyone out there who has ever had a dream about doing what they love, it shows us what can become of someone truly devoted to their love in life. Those of us who say that we do what we love might walk out of the film feeling like they’ve forgotten that passion that made them want to enter into their respective careers in the first place. At one point Jiro asks why anyone who “does what they love” have any complaints about the job? If they love it, there should be no complaints, plain and simple.
The film really does a great job of showing his passion for cooking sushi. There are countless slow motion shots of different stages of preparation; The sounds of the water hitting the rice that they use for the sushi and gorgeous cinematography by Gelb that puts us right in the kitchen to make us feel like we’re apart of something special. Every image is so crisp and beautiful that any time there are any shots of food, you wish you could partake in the experience.
The other story at the film’s center is the relationship that Jiro has with his two sons, Yamamoto and Takashi. Takashi (his younger son) has opened his own restaurant, which is basically a more relaxed mirror image of Jiro’s. (We’re shown in an early scene that Jiro is left-handed and therefore the design of his restaurant is meant for a left-handed chef. Takashi is right handed and so the opposite is true.) We’re told that Jiro often intimidates people, as he usually stares intently at each of his customers, studying their reactions to his food. Takashi on the other hand is more conversational and supposedly cooks sushi that is almost, if not equally as good as his father’s.
Yamamoto (the older son who’s now 51) is the heir to Jiro’s restaurant, but is still struggling to live up to the man his father is. A former employee of Jiro’s explains that in order for Yamamoto to be successful he has to make sushi that is far better than Jiro’s, not equal to. At 85, Jiro shows no signs of quitting despite a heart attack ten years earlier and the long hours he still puts in to his business, which leaves Yamamoto with some time to surpass his father.
For me, the aspects of this family and this restaurant are fascinating. The son’s quest for the father’s approval is something that I will always connect with, and the fact that Yamamoto still has not surpassed his father at his age is heartbreaking at times. In addition, the calculation and the process that goes into perfecting a product like Jiro has is so inspiring. Jiro doesn’t beat himself up for “not being perfect yet”, instead he works; each day seeing how he can improve upon the last. Some of his techniques took years to achieve, such as how long to massage an octopus before boiling it. We’re told he originally started at 20-30 minutes but now does it for closer to 40, which makes its texture much better than most are probably used to.
This is a film that shows the results of someone who is devoted to his craft and loving every minute of it. My eyes were glued to the screen for every minute that an image was projected. I kept thinking to myself that whatever I do in life, I’m nothing if I don’t relish every minute of it. I walked out of the theatre feeling inspired - something that I don’t feel often enough in movies anymore. It reminded me of why I love seeing films from all around the world, not just American films. I should mention that I’m a vegetarian and have, for my entire life, despised seafood. This is the first and only film that really made me wish I could try some sushi; that I was sitting right in front of Jiro, eating the meal he’s placed in front of me, while he stares patiently at me awaiting my response.