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With: Jiro Ono, Yoshikazu Ono
Written by: n/a
Directed by: David Gelb
MPAA Rating: PG for mild thematic elements and brief smoking
Language: Japanese, with English subtitles
Running Time: 81
Date: 06/15/2011

Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2012)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Passionate Fish

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

We're always on the lookout for the next great food movie, and since Hollywood grows ever more wary of movies that take their time and concentrate on the process of making something, it only makes sense that the newest food movies are documentaries.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi focuses on a special restaurant in Tokyo. The restaurant has received the elusive 3-star rating from the Michelin Guide. (There are currently 106 such restaurants in the world. The United States has ten. Two are here in the Bay Area: The Restaurant at Meadowood, and The French Laundry.) Jiro's restaurant only serves a handful of customers per night, and it takes over a month to get a reservation. The price is the equivalent of something along the lines of $320, per person, to start. The restaurant serves sushi, and only sushi, with no appetizers or anything else.

The head chef is Jiro, who is now in his mid-eighties. Though he still works every day and has no wish to retire, he entrusts most of the sushi-making duties to his eldest son, Yoshikazu Ono, and his crew of helpers. Someday, not too far in the future, Jiro will die and his son will be expected to take over. The son is apparently every bit as good of a sushi chef as his father, but he is not his father. With the reputation that Jiro has built up -- he is officially recognized as a national treasure in Japan -- no one could possibly fill his shoes.

Such is the puzzle behind Jiro Dreams of Sushi. Indeed, Yoshikazu's younger brother left to start his own restaurant, anticipating what was to come. The movie doesn't have an answer for this puzzle, so it merely examines the day-to-day operations of the restaurant. Yoshikazu makes trips to the fish market to buy only the best fish from trusted vendors; there's a brief aside about the sad state of the fishing industry in the world today. Jiro only buys special rice from a special vendor that must be cooked a special way (under a great amount of pressure, with a pot lid that cannot be lifted with only one hand).

From Jiro himself, we learn that this craft takes love and dedication. He never wants to take a day off, and with each piece of sushi he makes, he continues to learn and improve.

But, directed by David Gelb, the movie's great moments come when it admires the finished sushi. Jiro molds it carefully in one hand, pressing down with two fingers from the other. He brushes on a kind of sauce or oil, and, voila, it is placed neatly on a plate. Gelb's camera savors it in such a way that we can almost taste it.

I can't imagine that Yoshikazu will be out of work when his father passes away. He will either carry on or start his own restaurant and the high quality of the food will continue. (He says he wanted to be a pilot or a race car driver, but those dreams seem unlikely at this point.) Regardless of what the future brings, though, Jiro is a living legend, and this movie pays apt tribute to him.

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