Short Takes: Jiro Dreams of Sushi
By Chris Chang
(David Gelb, U.S., 2011)
It costs about $400 and you can be in and out in as little as 15 minutes. You can only get it at a secluded spot in a Tokyo subway station—and, no, it’s not illegal. It’s the price you pay for a meal at Sukiyabashi Jiro, a tiny restaurant consisting of a bar-like counter with 10 chairs. (Reservations are a nightmare.) When and if you do manage to secure a seat, you will select nothing: there’s no menu, no appetizers, no dessert. It’s dealer’s-choice sushi, and according to its tony disciples—including the French snobs of Michelin and that American wiseass Anthony Bourdain—there is none better.
First-time director David Gelb explores the world of Jiro Ono, an octogenarian chef whose daily routine is as predictable as the fruits of his labors are transcendent. From haggling with the early-morning fishmongers, to the last-minute taste-tests, all his senses are focused yet none are ever really satisfied. A pair of compliant heir-apparent sons add background pathos: no matter how far they surpass the artistry of the father, they will forever remain in his shadow. (You can catch glimpses of that sobering realization on their faces.)
Ono may be the center of this universe, but the real star of the film is the sushi, and the exquisite yet frustrating beauty with which the camera has captured it. You can’t eat what you see on screen and, even worse, the next time carefully prepared raw fish actually sits before you, it will pale in comparison. To repurpose David Thomson on Robert Bresson: to watch Jiro is to risk conversion away from sushi.
© 2012 by The Film Society of Lincoln Center