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July 27, 2012

Movies You Missed 49: Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Jiro-dreams-sushiThis week in movies you missed: Behold the best sushi you will never get to eat (unless you have a trip to Japan planned) and the dedication of the men who make it.

What You Missed

Eighty-five-year-old Jiro Ono has been making sushi since he was 10 and doesn't regret a minute of it. His tiny restaurant in Tokyo, adjacent to a subway station, has a Michelin three-star rating. The price starts at 30,000 yen (about $375), the average meal lasts 15 minutes, and reservations must be made at least two months in advance.

In this documentary, director David Gelb shows us Jiro's world, including his kitchen, his apprentices, his fish market and suppliers, his customers and his two grown sons. One has his own restaurant; the other, at 50, still works for Jiro and expects to succeed him one day.

But that day seems unlikely to come soon. Although Jiro says he concocts sushi innovations in his dreams, he primarily seems happy to "do the same thing every day." And to do it perfectly, if his reputation and customers are any indication.

Why You Missed It

Thanks to Vermont's strong foodie culture, you may have seen Jiro at one of our local film festivals, or during a brief run at the Savoy Theater.

Should You Keep Missing It?

Not if you believe food can be a transcendent experience and love to watch perfectionist chefs at work. A Tokyo food critic supplies narration and background information, and there are interviews with Jiro's apprentices and sons. But mainly we watch Jiro do what he does best, as he meditates in voiceover on the nature of his craft. The austere sounds of classical music (particularly Philip Glass) make for a meditative, almost trancey experience.

Being somewhat skeptical about the whole transcendent-food thing, and unsure I would pay that much even for the world's most mind-blowing sushi, I was more interested in the information the film provided. For instance, Jiro explains why he prefers the flavor of lean tuna to that of fatty tuna, and then we visit the tuna supplier, who demonstrates how he chooses a fish.

I would have welcomed more exposition. What makes excellent sushi excellent (besides obvious factors, like freshness), and why was it necessary for one apprentice to make egg sushi 200 times before he got it right? (This after he waited 10 years for the chance to try.) You won't get the answers here.

Still, anyone who believes in doing what you love, and practicing your craft till you can do it very well, will relate to Jiro on some level. It's also an intriguing character study. And, yes, you get to see gorgeous, jewel-like sushi.

Verdict: Rent it for the foodie you love. Further reading: a thoughtful New Yorker blog post by Dana Goodyear on Jiro, which led me to this fun piece on the perceived gender of foods. (In Japan, as the movie makes clear, sushi preparation is for men. Yet Americans are more likely to perceive it as feminine, as opposed to beef and taters.)

Other New Releases You May Have Missed

  • Age of the Dragons (Moby Dick reimagined with ... dragons!)
  • Footnote (Israeli drama about Talmudic scholarship and family rivalry)
  • The Love Guide (Parker Posey as a woman who saves her chicken farm by appearing on a reality show.)
  • Meeting Evil (Samuel L. Jackson plays a killer tormenting Luke Wilson.)
  • The Monitor (Noomi Rapace plays a mom escaped from an abusive relationship who's terrified by sounds coming from her baby monitor.)
  • My Way (Korean WWII epic about rival Korean and Japanese marathon runners)

Each week in "Movies You Missed," I review a brand-new DVD release picked for me by Seth Jarvis, buyer for Burlington's Waterfront Video, where you can obtain these fine films. (In central Vermont, try Downstairs Video.)


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