Review: Tudor dreams of JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI (but not sushi)

Jim Tudor, Contributor
I've never tasted sushi; I've been waiting for the movie. Finally, it's arrived! Filmmaker David Gelb's JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI is one of the best food documentaries I've ever seen. (And yes, I've seen a few of them.) Process, tradition and familial tension come together for a rare glimpse into the inner world of an unlikely master of his craft: Eighty-five year old Jiro Ono, the celebrated yet humble proprietor of the most drooled-over sushi eatery on the globe. Do not be fooled by the establishment's unassuming appearance and location as part of a bustling Tokyo train station. Jiro's, we are told, is food perfection served up consistently. But Gelb's film it goes well beyond that...
We are told that in Japan, the oldest son is expected to surpass the father. For Jiro's middle-aged son Yoshikazu, this is an insurmountable expectation. Jiro has a rigid singleness of purpose when it comes to his work. He lives for it, and yes, he dreams of it. But despite the impeccable three star lauding of the Michelin guide (an honor denoting that a country is worth visiting just for a meal at there), Jiro not only feels that he hasn't yet reached perfection, but that he won't know it when he does finally taste it. The inescapable underlying drama stands that if Jiro can't be satisfied with his own acclaimed brilliance, how can he ever be proud of his son, who has nonetheless given his life over to following in his father's professional footsteps?

Gelb incorporates established Philip Glass music into the narrative to underscore the common refrain that a meal at Jiro's is like music. Carefully utilized slow-motion photography and often a gutsy narrow depth of field that can't always contain the action are just a couple of the visual hallmarks that set this documentary on level of greater technical sophistication than that of many other documentaries.

If you're the type who opts to avoid documentaries in favor of fictional narrative features, there's no other way to say it: You are missing out. You are missing out on an essential portion of what the film world has to offer, and you are depriving yourself wholesale of carefully constructed and often organically arrived-at compelling portraits of noteworthy individuals, subjects, cultures, and topics that you might not otherwise take the time to sample. A diet of healthy, solid documentaries can and will enrich not only your intake of narrative fiction features, but your actual life as well.

With the documentary field as competitive as it is, it's a safe best that any given doc that actually reaches a commercial theater is at least worth considering checking out. Many do not warrant the big screen treatment, justifying the choice to watch them at home. That's fine, but JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI is different. This is a fully formed cinematic documentary experience. Therefore, I'll make a deal - you try the sushi movie, and I'll try real sushi. (And I won't even insist to be flown to Jiro's, - although I wouldn't protest that.) Sound good? Sounds delicious!

Do not miss out on JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI, a tastefully intimate documentary that is worthy of the big screen.

- Jim Tudor
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