Review: Jiro Dreams of Sushi

March 7, 2012, 7:19 am
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It's the slogan Toyota unveiled 23 years ago to unleash its luxury brand Lexus on the world: "The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection". They likely swiped it from Jiro Ono, the supremely-focused sushi sage at the center of Jiro Dreams of Sushi, a spellbinding documentary that will have you rethinking what dedication to craft truly entails.

Step down into Jiro's sushi studio, Sukiyabashi Jiro, situated inside a Tokyo subway of all spots and prepare to pay up - 30,000 yen is the jumping off point - roughly 400 bucks. For the cash you don't exactly dine in exquisite comfort - the joint has all of 10 tables. As famed Japanese food critic Yamomoto puts it: a quick eater could be out the sliding door in 15 minutes even after waiting a month for a reservation to open up. 

But what the restaurant lacks in ambiance is more than made up for in attention to detail and more importantly, taste. This is sushi served up with an ungodly level of precision, preparation and presentation - you don't earn a Michelin 3-star rating by whipping up a run-of-the-mill California roll. 

The man in charge is the epitome of a shokunin (Japanese artisan), the 85-year-old Jiro is the paradigm for Tony Robbins' CANI system: Constant And Never-ending Improvement. The octogenarian won't accept anything less than perfection even though he's is plenty aware that it's not truly attainable.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi is not just about the man, it's very much about family and the legacy one leaves behind. For Jiro's sons, that means carrying on dad's mission whether it be in the same establishment (older son Yoshikazu) or in the shopping mall outpost (younger son Takashi). 

The relationship between Jiro and Yoshikazu is in focus throughout - the elder son learning the craft with a steadfast dedication even though he remains the understudy at the age of 50. From the fish market to the restaurant's kitchen, Yoshikazu's apprenticeship is as demanding as the standards his father holds himself to. 

It begs the question: would Yoshikazu have chosen the same path if he were not essentially forced to?

The film is a visual feast on screen, shot on Red One, considered the finest digital camera in existence. Director David Gelb uses the thing to capture a strikingly vivid picture of the man that's held up as a god by restaurateurs around the globe and the passion and drive it has taken to get to the very pinnacle of his profession. 

If the ultimate goal of a documentary is to drop you into a location and make you feel it as if you were actually there, consider this the most scrumptious trip to Tokyo you'll ever take.

Grade: A

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It was many moons ago in a darkened theater that my love of cinema took root as I snuck in to see my first R-rated film, Blade Runner. The futuristic vision that Ridley Scott unleashed on the screen was simply soul-expanding — spiritual even. From that moment, my mission to have that kind of magic strike again began in earnest. My hope is to be able to shine a light on films that may just have that kind of effect on you — films that may be lesser known, but not lesser in impact. 
             
- Erick Weber

Final Cut Scoring System
99-95% Opening night
94-90% Opening weekend
89-86% In theaters
85-83% On Demand
82-80% Netflix/Redbox
79-75% If desperate
74-70% If dozing off
69-65% If intoxicated
64-60% If comatose
Below 60% If brain dead

Erick's reviews
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