Jiro Dreams Of Sushi is the David Gelb helmed documentary about Jiro Ono, owner and head chef of the much heralded Sukiyabashi Jiro. It’s a very pretty film, with lots of slow mo pans and tilts and lingering shots of soy being brushed over the fish and placed gently on serving dishes with a soundtrack of Phillip Glass and Max Richter.

The story itself centers mostly on Jiro himself, a sprightly 86 year old who has basically been a sushi chef since forever. He’s a legend, a national treasure and a curious, almost eccentric personality. He’s the sort of perfectionist so in love with his craft that he hesitates to stop. His only desire is the continual improvement and attainment of better sushi. It’s hard to imagine working at the same thing for over 75 years. He actually considered retiring at one point when he fell ill and had to go to the hospital but ultimately just kept going.

But it’s not all about Jiro, the supreme overlord sushi machine. It’s also about succession, about his sons and the apprentices who have served under him and are serving under him, including Hachiro Mizutani of Sushi Mizutani, another 3 starred place and well respected in and of itself who talks briefly about working under Jiro and also about the difficult task that his sons face. Takashi, the younger has branched out with his own Roppongi Hills outlet. Yoshikazu, the elder, is expected to the heir but he’s still the underling at over 50! He has at least graduated to doing the shopping and in many ways, he’s probably the head chef moreso than Jiro. The film also mentions how the restaurant was awarded 3 michelin stars consistently and each and everytime, the inspectors were served by Yoshikazu, not Jiro himself. Mizutani says it’s still tough for Yoshikazu though, so great is Jiro’s influence that his son has to be at twice his actual level to even match him in the eyes of regulars.

From the issue of succession, it segues into the issue of long term continuity which is the environmental issue of overfishing. Top sushi restaurants like these tend to be tiny little places, where reservations are mandantory. 30,000Y is the starting price for dinner at Sukiyabashi Jiro. As popular as they might be, they don’t generate that much actual demand and don’t buy that much fish. Instead, it’s the kaiten sushi joints and rubbish supermarket stuff that is running fish stocks into the ground due the low cost and massive demand. The film itself is still a staunch promoter of sushi so it’s a bit of a double edged sword but if you watch it and you notice the insane attention to detail and how different it is to the cheap shit, hopefully you’ll understand the importance of quality not quantity. I still remember my worst meal in Sydney to date, a lunch at kaiten style sushi joint in the city. Super tasteless fish, pathetic portions and poor quality that no amount of mayo could negate. I think you can also extrapolate the idea to other types of food as well, from overcrowded farming techniques to the excessive use of pesticides and shit. Fuck I think I’m turning into some kinda organic food asshole.

Then you start talking about the suppliers. The similar level of dedication the tuna guy has (he either buy’s his first choice or nothing) or the rice guy (who won’t sell the rice to anyone else because they can’t cook it)… It reminds me that a place is only as good as the stuff it can get in the first place and a lot of that is disappearing.

When I was planning my trip to Tokyo a month ago, I actually wanted to hit up a less expensive 3 star joint, Sushi Saito as well as one of the famous trio at Tsukiji. Time and hesitation meant I omitted Saito, which I regret. Having watched the film, I think I’ve sworn off rubbish sushi entirely and if I want that stuff, I’ll do it myself at home. Otherwise, I’m only gonna have it if it’s worth it. The next Tokyo trip, I’m definitely gonna gun for at least one of the top sushi places.

I enjoyed the film immensely. The idea of dedication and the ritualistic nature of being a craftsman, a shokunin, is what I took from it the most. Just trying to enjoy your job and always looking onwards and upwards. I still wonder how much better a place like Jiro really is. I really want to know what it’s like to be near the mountaintop at least. I want to know how such dedication and critical selection can turn simple methods into works of art. To think it’s a 10 seat, reservations only place, hidden underground in the Ginza station is just mind boggling!

Another thing that resonated deeply with me is watching the team eat staff meal. You can’t tell what tastes good if you don’t eat  it. That’s something I’ve subscribed to since I was in the womb!

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