“I love sushi” our conversation began when Jiro Dreams of Sushi was released in 2011. US film maker and director, David Gelb grew up on sushi as child on his father’s business trips to Japan. His mother is both a chef and food writer, so perhaps its no wonder he’s so deeply interested in food.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi is Gelb’s celebration of the tradition and mystique behind sushi, and the performance aspects of the sushi master. It’s also a story about how Sushi Master Jiro Ono (then 85 years old) still strives daily for perfection, at his three star Michelin restaurant. At just 10 seats, this is perhaps the smallest three star Michelin in the world.
While talking to David Gelb in New York, he evoked pictures, tastes, smells of a culinary ideal that, just like his first film, had me wanting to immediately hop a plane to Japan.
“Sushi is as complicated as any national cuisine” he shared and then revered how Master Jiro Ono perfectly matches the rice to the fish.
“You’re really tasting the essence that he has worked so hard to perfect. The rice is unlike any I’ve had here in the states. If a single piece of rice was to fall off the sushi you’d go after that one grain”. He describes how the harmony of rice, soy and wasabi elevates the pure soul of the fish.
Just the selection of the fish is a story in itself, as Gelb follows the older Ono son to Tsukiji fish market where every day he selects the absolute best fish from specialist suppliers. More than the freshest and the finest, Ono looks also for the most appropriate fish for the sushi.
Gelb highlights the more formal elements of the documentary through the use of refined lenses for the cinematography, and the use of master composers - Bach Mozart and Tschaikovsky - in the music to reinforce this perception as food in its elevated form. In particular, the music of modern composer Phillip Glass was selected to express the repetitive nature of Jiro’s work, used as a metaphor for the building towards perfection through repetition. Each day Jiro looks to this same process to continual improve, and to move closer to an ethereal ideal of perfection.
Although his first film, a young Gelb has created one of the all time best food films which captures both the subtleties of Japanese culture in this focused goal of continual improvement, and the interplay between father and sons, his eldest to be his successor and his youngest breaking out on his own - also with sushi.
A must see movie for both food and film aficionados, seek it out. Jiro Dreams of Sushi is more than the sum of its parts. Both sumptuous and serious, the film flows like fish swimming in a stream due to brilliant first time directing, cinematography and editing, and the contented match of meaningful music.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi screened with standing ovations in Sydney during the 2011 Sydney Film Festival, was a surprise box office hit of that US spring, and then went on to screen to a wider audience iin Australia from May of that year.