Japan | 2011 | Directed by David Gelb
Logline: A documentary about an octogenarian sushi master, his two sons, and the tiny restaurant in which they tirelessly work.
Sukiyabashi Jiro, in the basement of a Tokyo office building, is the world’s smallest three-star Michelin restaurant (the intimidating Michelin guide felt three stars was the only adequate rating they could give the intimate establishment that doesn’t even have a toilet on the premises). It is owned and run by 85-year-old Jiro Ono, a sushi master who left home at the tender age of nine, and began making sushi at ten. Seventy-five years later he continues to strive for perfection.
He serves sushi at his restaurant, and sushi only. Nothing more, nothing less, just the tastiest, most succulent sushi the world has to offer. He never takes a day off work, unless to attend a funeral, or perhaps a rare as hen’s teeth visit to see some very old friends. Apart from his two sons he employs only three other men.
Jiro’s eldest son Yoshikazu is in his 50s and plans one day to step into his father’s shoes. Who knows when that day will come? The other son left to open his own place, and in respect he had his interior designed as a mirror reflection of his father’s. In the meantime Jiro dreams of sushi, and the smiles on the thousands of customers who have graced one of the ten stools that sits around his sushi bar over the years.
For Jiro the perfect sushi is an exquisite union between fish and rice. He serves a degustation of sushi. At $300 a head and with the average dining time of around half an hour, it makes his sushi joint one of the most expensive restaurants in the world. But as anyone who has dined on his delicate oceanic flavours and moist warm grain says, the experience is not only worth it, but it is worth a return visit, and another, and probably another. But keep in mind you need to book a month in advance.
Jiro is regarded as a shokunin, a master of his talent. But Jiro still feels there is a higher level of perfection to reach, and so he plods along tirelessly, day after day, night after night, carefully, meticulously producing his world-renowned dishes. He rates French chef Joel Robochun as his primary source of inspiration, as he feels the Gallic cook has the most extraordinary sense of smell and taste.
David Gelb’s simple unfussy documentary celebrates the art of sushi without ostentation or pretension. There is humour, there is poetry, but both are handled with the subtlety of a lean tuna sashimi. There is the lament of the disappearing fish of the ocean. Over-fishing, especially the net fishing and bottom trawling, has meant one that the massive tuna that used to be marketed in the 40s and 50s no longer has the chance to grow to that size. Conveyor belts have created consumer sushi-heads without any elegance.
But Jiro doesn’t let that bother him too much. He continues to dream of making sushi, the simple meditative joy it brings, and the delicious morsels on his degustation menu: halibut, squid, horse mackerel, lean tuna, medium tuna, fatty tuna, gizzard shad, clam, striped mackerel, “car” shrimp, half beak, octopus, mackerel, bay scallop, salmon roe, salt water eel, dried gourd eel, and grilled egg.