Do you eat food? Do you have—or have you had—a job or a father? If you answered "yes" to one or more of these questions, you must see the new documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi.
Jiro Ono is 85 years old. He still works at his sushi bar—10 seats, located in the hallway of a Tokyo subway station, recipient of three Michelin stars—every day. He hates holidays; on the day of the ceremony awarding him his Michelin constellation, he later got bored and went back to work. His commitment to his craft—to being a shokunin, to striving for impossible perfection—is complete. (According to Jiro, yours should be, too—if you hate your job, this film will be painful to watch, though it seems possible that it could change your life. If you are a chef and you don't see Jiro Dreams of Sushi, you are making a grave mistake.)
"It has to be better than last time," Jiro says of his sushi, and he means every time, day after day after day. While this is tantamount to a logical impossibility, everyone agrees that it is true; his sushi is always better than before. Director/cinematographer David Gelb shows this truth—in everything that Jiro says and does, in every glossy and yielding piece of fish shown, in the important matter of rice—with a plainspoken, crisp, yet entirely beautiful style. The judicious use of time-lapse footage makes your heart beat faster; with classical pieces and works by Max Richter and Philip Glass, so does the score. (The music also elegantly dovetails with a certain metaphor.)
Jiro's own history, conveyed in a few words and one hilarious and tragic scene at a cemetery, is one of pulling himself up by his own bootstraps, but without any boots to start with. His relationship with his two grown sons, who are following in the traditional manner in his methodical, perfectionist footsteps, is at the center of the film, and this relationship is endlessly complicated and very simple at the same time. His wife is mentioned only once.
Jiro is about discipline—about at least two kinds of very serious devotion—which makes the funny moments even funnier (and they are neither few nor far between). The camera also lingers on small moments—the toasting of nori, the fanning of rice, the removal of scales—which makes the bursts of activity even more thrilling. Watching the fish auctioneers ring bells insanely and scream in Japanese and stomp their galoshed feet in a cold warehouse full of huge dead fish provokes awe, a little fear, and maybe a thing or two you can't name. (The enormous pile of Styrofoam waste outside provokes amazement mixed with rage—Jiro touches on the environmental issues that are very much at stake, but it only touches.)
If you love sushi or little old men who look like the wisest of turtles, you may actually dream of I Dream of Jiro. If you just like surprising, quietly eloquent stories about people, you will merely love it.