Jiro Dreams of Sushi (Magnolia Pictures, PG)

You’ll be hard-pressed to think of the last time food looked this good in a movie.

 

Every now and then an unassuming-seeming documentary will float along that somehow everyone I know is dying to see. The last big one I remember was 2006’s Wordplay, which, it’s worth noting, was one of the biggest theatrical release documentary success stories of recent years, eventually grossing over $3 million domestically. A new entry in this category of unusually must-see documentaries is David Gelb’s Jiro Dreams of Sushi, which focuses on the 85-year old Jiro Ono, whom many regard as Tokyo’s single best sushi chef.

The makings of a great documentary are here: Jiro’s a likeable old fellow (with noticeably odd ideas regarding parenting), a perfectionist when it comes to sushi, and yet odd enough to immediately catch your interest. His restaurant received the rare three-star rating from Michelin (their highest rating), but it has only ten seats and no onsite restroom. If you want to eat there, you have to make reservations about three months in advance, and expect to pay in the neighborhood of $300 for one person to eat a meal that will take most people around 15 minutes to consume. Beyond that, there’s no menu—you can only get sushi, and the sushi you get varies by the day—it depends on what Jiro can get in its highest quality the day you happen to be there.

Remember, too, that more so than most other types of food (excepting maybe sub sandwiches), people tend to watch sushi chefs make sushi, which inherently makes Jiro Dreams of Sushi all the more cinematic. Gelb has said in interviews that Jiro was a perfectionist about his sushi, right down to the timing of when Gelb shot it—he’d insist on about the exact second when it was the most photogenic. And it shows in the finished film. You’ll be hard-pressed to think of the last time food looked this good in a movie. It really makes you appreciate the sheer artistry of what Jiro does, too, which helps to soften the blow that we never get to find out just how good it tastes.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi doesn’t go much farther than what I’ve just described. We learn very little about Jiro’s life (aside from that he doesn’t like forced holidays, as they keep him from making sushi for his customers); we see practically no women at all (we meet his sons, one of whom works in Jiro’s kitchen, but no mention is ever made of their mother); we witness some fairly brutal fish-killing scenes; we meet his suppliers; we meet some of his customers. But mostly we just see sushi being made, and the approximate process Jiro employs to make it as good as it can possibly be. And while Jiro Dreams has an unusually tight focus, this suits it well; the film’s 81-minute running time is enough to rush you in, make you good and hungry, and rush you back out without wasting any of your time with irrelevant issues. One gets the impression that eating at Jiro’s restaurant is much the same way. | Pete Timmermann

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