Magnolia Pictures // 2011 // 82 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Daryl Loomis // August 8th, 2012
There is always a yearning to achieve more. I'll continue to climb, trying to reach the top, but no one knows where the top is.
At a subway station in the district of Ginza in Tokyo, Japan, sits an unassuming shop with an unassuming 85-year-old man standing there cutting fish. What one might not recognize while walking by is that this man, Jiro Ono, is regarded by many as the finest sushi chef in the entire world. His simple creations, by all accounts, are perfect, magical, and served ten seats at a time. This small operation earned him a coveted 3-Star Michelin rating and, maybe a little less prestigiously, an elegantly realized documentary directed by David Gelb.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a lovely profile of a true master of his art, doing what he has done brilliantly for over seventy years, without ever feeling like he has perfected his craft. He has perfected his routine, though, which he follows every single day without fail. It may not seem like the exciting, cosmopolitan life that people associate with high level chefs these days, but he offers a singular culinary experience that he attributes in part to that repetition, and that's the basis of the documentary.
Gelb focuses mostly on Jiro, but the restaurant, the art, and the industry all play their roles. Sometimes, the documentary verges on food porn, but that's as much to do with the amazing visual appeal of Jiro's sushi. As a fan of cool, raw fish on rice, I was consistently agog at the appearance of the food, minimal and perfect every time.
Gelb could have likely succeeded just by the food on display, but he takes steps that make his documentary more worthwhile than something appearing on the Food Network. Using Jiro as a starting point, Gelb delivers something that speaks as much to Japanese culture and the sushi industry as it does the restaurant itself. Jiro's oldest son, Yoshi, spends a lot of time on camera; he has the honor of taking over the restaurant when Jiro retires, but it has kept him in a second fiddle role into an advancing age, where his brother, unburdened by his lineage, has opened his own place and is successful on his own. It may seem like Yoshi got the bum rap, but the responsibility and legacy he will inherit is an honor in Japan that Yoshi revels in, whether he wants to or not.
Yoshi is who actually buys the fish these days and, through him, we see the massive fish market and meet some of the highly specialized vendors the restaurant utilizes. These are some of the most interesting scenes, as we see how Jiro and his diners are at the very end of a long line of producers, all of whose contributions have a direct effect on Jiro's end product. Jiro knows this and values them; he values everything, and that's part of the point of Jiro Dreams of Sushi. While the man is an unabashed master of his art, he also understands better than most how his life's journey is built on small things, valuing and harboring relationships, and respecting what one is doing. And, after all that time and effort, he remains unsatisfied.
From Magnolia Home Entertainment, the Blu-ray for Jiro Dreams of Sushi is excellent. The 1.78:1/1080p transfer is worthy of Jiro's food, as the fish simply glistens on the plate, the colors gorgeous and rich. The documentary isn't all that cinematic, though, so it wouldn't be what I pull out to show off the format, but as HD food porn goes, it more than does the job. The sound, while not a terribly dramatic DTS-HD surround mix, it is crisp and clear with sharp dialog and a rear spectrum filled up by the classical score.
Extras are very solid, if not that numerous. The audio commentary with Gelb and editor Brandon Driscoll-Luttringer is interesting and informative, but not essential. They get more into the backstory of the movie and how it turned from a general sushi doc into the Jiro-centric final result. A series of deleted scenes, about ten minutes worth, could have all been included in the film, especially given the short running time, while a series of featurettes about some of Jiro's fish and rice dealers are the most valuable parts on the disc. For those who can't get enough of looking at the food, there's a photo gallery that will provide a little more, and a trailer rounds out the disc.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi is no exposé on the Japanese fishing industry or anything big and shocking like that. It's simply a quiet, loving portrait of a man at the absolute height of his craft, doing something that brings nothing but joy to his customers and raises the level of his art. If nothing else, it's the best sushi documentary I've ever seen, so if you like your fish raw and shot in tight close-up, this is the movie for you.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (Japanese)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 82 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Deleted Scenes
* Photo Gallery