Jiro Dreams of Sushi Review
Jiro Ono, now 87 years of age, is considered by many to be the world’s finest sushi chef. His Tokyo restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro, serves only sushi, seats just 10 customers and has been the recipient of three Michelin Stars for six consecutive years. Ono has also written a number of books on his chosen profession, been awarded by his government for cultural services and been the subject of Japanese television specials devoted to his working methods and his childhood. To those we can now add Jiro Dreams of Sushi, a feature-length US documentary by David Gelb.
Gelb, who has previously made films devoted to the Hold Steady and the making of Fernando Meirelles’ Blindness, adopts a simple approach. Acting as his own cinematographer, he shoots digitally and non-intrusively, preferring to maintain a distance and simply observe the proceedings at Sukiyabashi Jiro. The footage of Ono, his sons and his apprentices is interspersed with interview footage that provides the context. Food writer Masuhiro Yamamoto is on-hand to supply the viewer with the history and significance, while Ono and family relate the more personal aspects. His upbringing doesn’t appear to have been a happy one – his father drank excessively. Following marriage he threw himself into his work and has been doing the same thing ever since, or at least until a heart attack curtailed some of his daily activities. He hates taking holidays, he loves sushi. It’s as simple as that.
There is perhaps a requirement that the viewer loves sushi too. Gelb edges towards food porn at times, with plenty of lingering close-up after lingering close-up of enticing little concoctions. There again, such moments are also indicative of an overall ‘sexing up’ of the material. Jiro Dreams of Sushi is plastered with Philip Glass and Max Richter compositions to up the exoticism, with a touch of Bach, Mozart and Tchaikovsky for good measure. Gelb also indulges in what feel like documentary contrivances – Ono returning to his childhood home for the first time in many years for an impromptu reunion – as means of making his film a little more palatable to casual audiences.
Indeed, you sense that Gelb never really trusts Jiro Dreams of Sushi to speak for itself – that a documentary about an octogenarian sushi chef needs something extra in order to communicate. Yet it’s in those quieter observational moments or the candid chats with Ono and his sons where the real interest lies. There’s a good documentary within the final film, but you sense that a more restrained approach would have yielded better results.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi comes to UK courtesy of Soda Pictures. The film appears in a ratio of 1.78:1 (anamorphically enhanced) and with a choice of DD5.1 and DD2.0 soundtracks. The image is clean albeit with the shortcomings inherent in basic handheld digital filmmaking. The sound is similarly issue-free and copes just fine with the softly spoken interview material as it does the wall-to-wall Glass and Richter. English subtitles are optional and there are no extras, not even a trailer.