“Ultimate simplicity leads to purity” –Yamato, “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”
There is a famous saying in India: “Work is Worship,” which is well applicable to the main protagonist in the documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” (2012). Before I started my first job in India, my dad used to tell me that work is everything and that by focusing on work, I will be successful in the future. Having seen my dad work long hours at the executive level, I assumed to be successful one had to work assiduously. In my early work years, I learnt that long work hours are expected as part of the Indian culture, and I have seen this in other Asian cultures, too. As much as I love my work, I can’t remember dreaming about my work and imagining new approaches for solving work problems. In David Gelb’s documentary, we are introduced to an eighty-five-year old sushi chef, Jiro, who dreams of new sushi recipes. More so, he also works long hours, continually working on mastering sushi items.
Jiro operates a sushi bar in Tokyo Ginza that accommodates only ten people. Considering the quality of sushi, prices start from $390, depending on the items ordered; the reservations are taken a month in advance. The bar doesn’t have appetizers or drinks, and they only serve sushi. In the initial segment, we gather Jiro is a strong, work-minded individual who has dedicated his entire life to making sushi. As he says in the opening segment: “Dedicate your life to your job, without complaining.” We get insights on Jiro’s masterly skills in making sushi through a food writer and critic, Yamato, who thinks, even though, Jiro’s sushi is simple, they are quite flavorful. Yamato has tasted sushi almost everywhere in Tokyo, and he has to yet find a sushi bar that matches the taste of Jiro’s sushi rolls. As we see Jiro making sushi, we get more understanding on his character; we see he has passion and self-discipline, and as a perfectionist, he usually likes to create a perfect sushi that his customer will ultimately like.
We also meet Jiro’s fifty-some-years old elder son, Yoshikazu, who is learning the art of making sushi from his father. Yoshikazu is respectful as he listens to his father’s feedback on sushi prepared by him. Jiro rejects the items, and Yoshikazu gets back to the kitchen again redoing the sushi items. At some point, Jiro wants to retire and hand over his legacy to Yoshikazu, but he doesn’t want to hurry things for Yoshikazu. On the other hand, Yoshikazu feels that carrying his father’s legacy will be very difficult. At the operational level, it seems like Jiro is not involved in day-to-day activities, and he let his sons manage the restaurant. We are taken to a local fish market, where Yoshikazu buys fish from only specific fish merchants. These merchants understand the quality of fish, and they recommend only good fish that would work best for sushi. Similarly, we also meet a rice dealer, Hiromichi, who provides a very specific type of rice to Jiro. The senior apprentices at Jiro’s bar make rice using a lot of pressure under a heavy lid. Jiro believes that for a good-tasting sushi, there has to be a right balance between the rice and the fish. In addition, we also see different techniques in preparing fish.
The documentary is more than just about sushi. It’s a study of a man, Jiro, who is devoted to the art of mastering sushi. Jiro might appear a stern-faced man, but in his heart, he finds enjoyment by looking at the pleased faces of his customers. He repeats the process of making sushi until he thinks he has created the right sushi that will delight the customers. He strives for perfection and quality, always looking for new ways to improve existing recipes. Indeed, Jiro’s dedication to his work is unmatched and is the main driver of his success. In addition, the film explores the relationship between Jiro and his sons. The expectations from his sons are clearly laid out, and Yoshikazu respects his father deeply, even when there are disagreements. In essence, the relationship between Jiro and Yoshikazu is similar to that of a student and teacher, in which the student learns as much as he wants from the teacher.
“Jiro” is a quiet affair that is very deep in many ways. It teaches us things along the way, and more important, it describes the process of creating sushi with painstaking details. At eighty-some minutes, the film maintains our interest throughout by showing us a multitude of interesting characters and heartfelt moments.
“Jiro Dreams of Sushi” is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and encoded using an AVC codec. The film is mainly shot in brightly lit white interiors, and the 1080 transfer nicely balances the contrast at appropriate levels. The detail is always remarkable, and sharpness is never an issue, with fine detail in close-ups of sushi. The film has a lot of such close-up shots, and the facial detail is especially well rendered. Likewise, skin tones are warm and realistic.
The lossless 5.1 Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio track perfectly captures the film’s serene elements. The documentary is dialogue-heavy, and sonically the front channels do most of the work. The dialogue is always crisp and clear, and the track also captures ambient noises, along with the hustle and bustle of a busy fish market with remarkable clarity. In addition, one may view the film with English or Spanish subtitles.
First, we get an audio commentary track with director/producer David Gelb and editor Brandon Driscoll-Luttringer. They discuss the film’s ideas and several editing techniques used. Following this, we get a set of ten deleted scenes, showing additional interviews with Yamato and Jiro’s apprentices. We also get extended scenes with shrimp and tuna merchants from the Tsukiji Fish Market. Next, there is a sushi gallery, showing Jiro’s dishes. Also, there is the film’s theatrical trailer.
I have to admit I have never been a big fan of sushi. But my views on sushi changed when I visited a sushi bar, “Roka Akor,” in Chicago Downtown. I was presented with mouthwatering sushi rolls, and while dinning I knew what it takes to make a great sushi: simplicity, softness, and freshness were noticeable in my tasting. As a delicacy, sushi is certainly an acquired taste, but this documentary takes us behind-the-scenes at a famous sushi bar, describing the sushi process in substantial detail. The film is a learning experience, teaching many things like work ethics, dedication, passion, motivation, and compassion–all key ingredients for a good and successful working professional. Yamato says: “Jiro sushis are like musical notes,” and the film’s enjoyment is driven when we see Jiro making sushi. Indeed, “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” remains one of the best food documentaries around.