Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a deliciously shot doc

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A documentary by David Gelb. In Japanese with English subtitles. Rated G.

Jiro dreams of sushi because Jiro Ono has spent seven decades of his 85 years religiously devoted to the singular art of placing fish on rice. But what fish, and what rice!

Ono is the oldest chef to receive a three-star rating from the Michelin Guide (one star means you’re superb). This is a point of pride, and perhaps some consternation, to his eldest son, Yoshikazu, who is 50 when we meet him and forever in training to take over the family business, a 10-seat sushi bar on the ground floor of a nondescript Tokyo office tower.

Young American filmmaker David Gelb also visits a younger son who went out on his own, and there are occasional photos to illustrate Jiro’s distant past. No other family members are introduced. Most of the movie is devoted to the intricate process of omakase, or choosing and making sushi for customers on the spot (the term means “I’ll leave it to you”).

Apprentices can spend 10 years before actually plumping out a single piece of nigiri, so patience is obviously the most revered virtue in this monastic environment (and explains why some employees leave after a single day). It’s fascinating, in a Zenlike way, to watch the gaunt old guy glaring at customers who pay upwards of 300 bucks to scarf his food.

The deliciously shot film’s best parts are at the sprawling Tokyo fish market where the Onos buy each day’s provisions. Long-time relationships are encapsulated in a few lively encounters, and the topic of overfishing is at least minimally addressed, focusing on its impact on artisans like Ono and his son.

Unlike recent foodie docs pushing the envelope of what we consider epicurean fare, Jiro sensitizes you to the quietly spiritual side of what you already eat—and how you spend your life.


Watch the trailer for Jiro Dreams of Sushi.

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