November 30, 2012 -- Living in Laramie, Wyoming, you would not expect to see much sushi around here, but there is lots of sushi in Laramie. There is sushi in the north part of town, in the south part of town, east, west, downtown, everywhere. We've got sushi running out of our ears here. I never cared for it, but I have to admit that seeing the documentary film, “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” makes me want to try the incomparable and expensive sushi at Jiro's place, Sukiyabashi Jiro in Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo, Japan.
I'd never heard of the subject of this movie, Jiro Ono, 87, or his restaurant before. The restaurant is one of those little pocket-sized, hole-in-the-wall places, where 10 chairs belly up the bar. You start getting hints that this is no ordinary sushi joint when you find out that you have to pay a minimum of 30,000 yen and make a reservation a year in advance to get in the door. Then you find out it is the only sushi restaurant in the world with a three-star rating in the Michelin Guide.
Sushi is simple food. There is no mystery in how to make it. So why is the sushi so much better here than anywhere else? So what in the world is going on in this place? That's what this film is all about. It is about Jiro Ono, his restaurant and his two sons who are also in the restaurant business. It is about the absolute dedication of Jiro Ono to his food and his restaurant.
Jiro Ono is a methodical man. He does the same thing every day. He oversees the process of cooking the food every day. The rice must be washed just so and kept at just the right temperature. The fish must be properly aged and marinated. The cooking and eating surfaces have to be kept immaculately clean. Jiro is a perfectionist, demanding the highest standards of his cooks and apprentices. One apprentice tells a story about trying to make an egg dish to Jiro's satisfaction. It took him 200 tries before the dish satisfied Jiro's sensitive palette.
Jiro, who was on his own from the age of nine, demands similar independence from his two sons. The oldest, Yoshikazu, will one day take over the family restaurant. The youngest, Takashi, started his own restaurant, which is almost identical to his father's restaurant. Both boys wanted to go to college, but Jiro persuaded them to follow his trade instead. He told Takashi he had no home to return to when he left to start his own restaurant. That was his way of saying that Takashi had to make his own way in life, the way his father did.
Jiro wants nothing more than to have his sons do the same thing every day, the way that he does. I'm not so sure that is what is going to happen after Jiro dies. Jiro said he has never tired of his daily routine. He loves food and he loves to make sushi. He has no desire to retire from his job. He said he won't retire unless his body betrays him. So far, he seems to have plenty of energy.
One segment of the film follows Jiro on a rare trip to visit old friends and the graves of his parents. He asks why he should care for the graves when his parents did little to care for him. The movie also takes some time to explore a Tokyo fish market, and the vendors that Jiro trusts. Jiro and Yoshikazu, who buys the daily fish, both comment on severe over-fishing which has depleted the fish stock available to them. Jiro talks about how many more kinds of fish used to be available and how the selection has declined dramatically in recent years. Fishing limits are suggested in the film. This is a grim note of reality in a movie that is otherwise focused on a very tiny part of the universe, the kitchen of a tiny restaurant. This film rates a B.
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