Sunday, September 2, 2012

John Dreams of Sushi

There aren't many places in micoast Maine to get good sushi. Or any sushi, for that matter. But even if I can't eat it, I can salivate over the images in "Jiro Dreams of Sushi," a truly wonderful documentary that I watched on Netflix Instant last night.

"Jiro Dream of Sushi" presents us with a truly unusual character, Jiro himself, an 85-year-old sushi chef who runs a tiny, 10-seat restaurant in a Tokyo subway station that may be the most expensive restaurant in the world. Jiro has been making sushi since he was ten years old and continues to strive to improve, setting enormously high standards for his staff and himself. He will settle for nothing less than being the best. Roger Ebert said in his review of the film that this is a sign of tunnel vision, and to a degree he's right -- Jiro almost never saw his children growing up because he worked from 5am to 10pm -- but it's also the hallmarks of a true artist and innovator. As a writer who tries to craft gems out of the same ingredients everyone else uses, I found the film's (and Jiro's) messages about passion and reaching for new plateaus to be quite inspiring.
Outside of its messages, this is also a beautifully filmed and flawlessly told documentary. It's truly great film making.

Of course, "Jiro Dreams of Sushi" won't be for everybody. For one thing, it's entirely subtitled. If you don't like reading your movies, you won't like "Jiro."

For another, vegetarians and vegans definitely won't care for the film. Fishing -- mush of it unsustainable -- is a key ingredient in the sushi and the movie. But for me, this actually made the film even more important and resonant. A key sequence of the documentary discusses how many of the fish species that were used in sushi until a few years ago are now unattainable. They've been fished into oblivion. Others are on their way. Key species are harder and harder to find -- even shrimp is a rarity -- and the quality of the fish that remains is rapidly declining. As Jiro and his son say, if tuna disappears, so will sushi.

There aren't many people like Jiro, and there aren't man documentaries like "Jiro Dreams of Sushi." It gets my highest recommendation.

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