The Art of Sushi & Jiro Dreams

"Once you decide on your occupation... you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That's the secret of success... and is the key to being regarded honorably."
-Jiro Ono
When I first heard about Jiro Dreams of Sushi, I wondered what a documentary about an octogenarian sushi chef might really offer me?  As I watched the film, I quickly learned Jiro Ono, the eighty-five year old proprietor of Sukiyabashi Jiro, is no mere restauranteur or chef or fishmonger, he is a philosopher and a culinary prophet.  
Tucked in an unassuming niche of a Tokyo train station, Jiro's restaurant seats a mere ten patrons.  After earning the coveted three-star Michelin rating (that's as close to food perfection as it gets), the tiny sushi venue quickly became one of the most sought after reservations in the world. 

Jiro's passion, even obsession, for perfecting his craft radiates from his humble exterior.  He sagely admonishes us to commit to work, never to settle for anything less than perfection, to make working a joy.  Throughout the film, others describe Jiro as a shokunin.  No real English translation of this term exists.  It is best defined by watching Jiro work.  He is an artisan and a craftsman with a social consciousness to do his best for the welfare of the people.
The entire film feels like an afternoon with a wise uncle whose drive and ambition almost makes you feel uncomfortable....an uncle who expects the best of you...an uncle who makes divine food served with a large wallop of guilt, like a punch of wasabi.

While Jiro and his two sons (who are in line to take over the business when he is forced to retire) compelled me with their ascerbic observations and life advice, what really delighted me was the elegant cinematography.  Director David Gelb's treatment of the main star, the sushi, was visually sparse yet radiantly beautiful, much as Jiro's restaurant itself.  Like an abstract painting or a vague poem, Jiro's food and the documentary both require openness to a new experience.

In many ways, Jiro Dreams reminded me of another favorite documentary, My Architect about Louis Kahn, his architecture and his bruised relationships with his family.  It seems over the years, like Kahn, Jiro may have sacrificed bonds with his children in favor of a life of hard work.  It appears his two sons view him more as a stern teacher than a father.  Is this the price of professional greatness? 

Whether you're a fan of toro or unagi or not, Jiro's dreams remind us that there is beauty in simplicity.  Jiro reminds us that there is honor in a life lived with committed passion.   And, most importantly, he reminds us that we must do what we love.

1 comment:

  1. EXCELLENT writing, Pink Frenchie!

    LOVE ...an uncle who makes divine food served with a large wallop of guilt, like a punch of wasabi.

    Wow ...


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