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Film Criticism by David O'Connell

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

June 6th 2012 04:01

A man who strives for perfection in his vocation is to be admired. Jiro Ono, world’s foremost sushi chef at age 85, is to be revered for his singular devotion. It's one that sees him still striving for an arbitrary peak of artistic achievement in his chosen realm - that of revealing the perfect product, like an edible magic trick, before his awed customers. David Gelb’s portrait, Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011) is an endearing one, encompassing the strong familial ties that underpin the old master's regimen. The director also takes the time to whet our appetites, luxuriating in the sensory splendour of perfectly pressed sushi. The restaurant's fish is sourced from the best available market imports each day (the finest stock auctioned off in a scene that gives rise to a fresh definition of 'organised chaos').

Beyond the smiling, gregarious figure of Jiro are his two sons – eldest Yoshi, his father’s most dedicated and longest standing assistant. He waits patiently for his turn in the sun, yet knowing he’ll be judged unfairly against the lofty standards attained by Jiro. Younger son Takashi has been more fortunate, able to stake his own claim, migrating out of the city hub to open his own sushi restaurant – a mirror-image of his father’s but of course without charging Jiro’s steep prices.

Lessons of dedication, persistence and striving for excellence come italicised in Gelb’s film. His subject is an unlikely but worthy role model, Jiro's success just reward for his inexhaustible enthusiasm for his life’s work. Having identified his calling as a boy abandoned by his parents he has slavishly devoted himself (in the way of any ‘Shokunin’ or master craftsman) to his regimented daily exertions, both falling in love with and literally dreaming about his next variation on a theme. Jiro’s never ending quest has earned him three Michelin stars and an unimpeachable reputation for excellence despite being located in an out-of-the-way basement in Tokyo with seating for just ten customers per session.

Montages of Jiro and his sons in the kitchen inspire for the dexterity on display, but so too do they work another kind of magic on audience members. Mostly overlaid with the instantly identifiable austere minimalism of Philip Glass (selections culled from his back-catalogue), these tantalising glimpses of sushi perfection, glistening and lovingly composed, have a tangible effect on the stomach, ensuring even a recently sated hunger is redoubled.


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