By SANJIT DEEPALAM
In January 2010, David Gelb set out to make a documentary about what many considered to be the best sushi restaurant in the world. Jiro Ono owns Sukiyabashi Jiro, a nine-seat restaurant with three Michelin stars that distinguish it as one of the best restaurants in the world. Jiro’s life and work ethic are recorded in the documentary film Jiro Dreams of Sushi, directed by Peter Gelb.
Gelb originally wanted to make a documentary about sushi in Japan, specifically in Tokyo. After eating at Sukiyabashi Jiro, however, he decided he should focus on just this one restaurant. The movie loosely follows the daily routine of the restaurant, with digressions exploring the different daily duties of Jiro and his son, who both work at the restaurant. The lives of all the cooks, the process of choosing the correct fish and the serving of dinner are documented.
At 85 years old, Jiro has been making sushi for 75 years. He was born into a middle class family in the early 1900’s, but when his father fell on hard times, Jiro had to move away from home and make a living for himself. After fighting for Japan during WWII, he came back home to focus more on sushi. Later on, he opened Sukiyabashi Jiro.
The cinematography made the movie visually stunning. Jiro and his staff view making sushi as an art, and the camerawork helped emphasize their dedication through close ups and perfect angles.
The story is also engaging, with just enough discussion of Jiro himself, using his restaurant as a means to understand and dissect him. The father-son dynamic is also a very interesting part of the story. Jiro’s son, who works at the restaurant, is over 50, but still works underneath his father. Most say he has the same skill level as his father, but since his father refuses to let up the reigns of the business and retire, his son continues to work under him, gradually taking on more and more responsibilities.
The most valuable part of the movie might be what it teaches about the characteristics that lead to success. People of all ages can take some lessons away from watching Jiro work. Jiro has no plans of retiring and says the secret to his success is his work ethic. “You must love your job,” Jiro said, “You must fall in love with your work.” He is also a perfectionist. As he said, “I’ll continue to climb, trying to reach the top. But no one knows where the top is!” However, as one watches the movie, it is impossible to wonder whether Jiro will ever be fully satisfied. Everyone around him commends his success and his ability, but he is still not satisfied with himself or his work; his impossibly high standards and subsequent incomplete satisfaction may be the price of his success.